Writers observe, analyze and articulate, making us the ultimate outsiders and the oddest-man-out of the bunch – so embrace the strange and let it lead you to unexpected triumphs and adventures.
Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. Martin Luther King
Oh…you’re a nerd.
That was the response I recently got a few months ago while out on a first (and ultimately last) date. It came after he heard the text alert from my phone (R2D2’s friendly little chirp), and though it wasn’t spit out in a blurt of total sarcasm, the tinge of judgment came through loud and clear.
To tell you the truth, I was a bit surprised at the subtle scorn – being a “nerd” is the new hip-to-be-square of the millennial generation. After all, television shows like The Big Bang Theory have made comic books and theoretical physics mainstream. Hipsters from Williamsburg (which, if I know about it, means it’s probably not hip anymore) to Berkley cultivate obscure interests and highly curated Spotify playlists while donning deliberately fashion-snubbing clothes (which, of course, create just another type of conformity) and proudly declaring their disdain for pop culture through their choice of facial hair and unironic posturing.
To be labeled a nerd doesn’t necessarily confine you to the empty lunch table and the pocket protector posse anymore. But those of us who were the original Star Wars fans or read too many books about dragons, who worried about our GPA and made sure to turn in all that extra credit, “nerd” was a label to avoid at all costs. Entire John Hughes films have been based on this battle. In the 80s, nobody wanted to be Anthony Michael Hall…we all wanted to be Molly Ringwald.
I’ve watched the zeitgeist change to embrace the very things I was teased for liking with an arched eyebrow and a heavy dose of skepticism. Eventually, the pendulum will swing back the other way, or a new definition of “nerd” will appear. After all, as humans, we seem compelled to classify and categorize each other – this one’s rich, this one’s pretty, that one’s stupid and that other one is just plain strange.
Where’s your will to be weird? Jim Morrison
Years ago, my nephew revealed to me that his best friend thought I was weird. He confessed this truth quietly and reluctantly, afraid I might take offense but compelled to explain why his friend often went completely mute in my presence. Because I still remember thinking all adults were strange – and because I’d listened to more punk rock than necessary for a quiet, bookish, small-town girl – I felt quite pleased to be thought of as weird. Certainly preferable to boring…or middle-aged or…worst of all…lame.
Weird I can handle. I’ve always been too introspective and broody to feel completely at ease even when I’m at my most banal and ordinary. It doesn’t help that I can’t resist a good case of Devil’s Advocate. I find that I feel most inspired taking the opposite side and arguing the unpopular opinion – even when I am firmly in line with the majority’s point of view.
Weirdism is definitely the cornerstone of many an artist’s career. E.A. Bucchianeri
When it comes to writing, I find that I do my best work when I fight against what’s expected. If a poem I’m working on seems to be moving in a pastoral direction, I’ll juice it up with some industrial language and staccato rhythm to break up the flowery prose. If the article I’m working on is top heavy with technical terms and complex ideas, I’ll throw in a casual sentence or left-field opinion just to shake things up. Sometimes when I start out writing this blog, I’ll realize halfway through that the opposite point of view is a more interesting take, and I’ll start again from scratch, usually ending up miles away from my original topic.
Of course, there’s always a danger in being too quirky – whether it’s your own personal affectations or the way your write and the characters you create. As Jeff Goins warns in his blog post about weird writers, “Trying to be weird may, in fact, hurt your writing, instead of setting it free. Don’t be weird; be you. You don’t need to find a niche. You just need to be you.”
Beware of taking on too many quirks or fighting to make your content too unusual. By all means, admire David Lynch or (early) Tim Burton. Read everything you can that’s considered avant-garde or experimental (but don’t feel too bad about yourself if you can’t finish that new wave novel or stomach one more free verse poem littered with made up words and percussive exclamations). Just make sure to use these creative oddballs as guideposts and beacons. Don’t imitate. Instead, emulate their fearlessness and embrace your own idiosyncrasies – it’ll make you a better writer.
In the end, try to always leave yourself open to different storytelling methods. Welcome the oddballs and the outsiders, and let them lead you towards your own authentic voice.
“Writers have always been weird,” writes Goins. “ Eclectic. Quirky. Dangerous. Since the beginning of time, writers have bucked the status quo. They push limits, test boundaries. They challenge normal.”
Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.
George R.R. Martin
Challenging normal gets you noticed. Challenging assumptions can open up new paths of creativity and can lead you a direction you never anticipated. Finding what makes you unique will provide you with inspiration and armor. Embracing who you are can set you free.
As Clayton Cubitt advises in The Great Discontent,
Find the thing in you that is different, that’s as sharp as a diamond and jagged as a razor. Hone that, because that’s the thing with which you’ll cut the world. If you try to stay safe and soft and average, then you’re going to get lost in the sea of all those other things that look just like you. Find the things about yourself that are weird and cultivate them because, eventually, those are the things the world is going to want to reward you for and that will bring you the most happiness. When you are young, those are the things that cause you so much pain, but it’s the pain that makes you unique. Own your scars.
You have to be odd to be number one. Dr. Seuss