I am participating in the Writing Contest: How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life (hosted by Positive Writer), and I would love to say that writing has made me more insightful, more sympathetic, more creative, and more disciplined. It might have. But the biggest impact writing has had on my life is my social skills. I needed to improve them…I needed, in fact, to acquire them in the first place. I went from a shy adolescence to a near-reclusive young adulthood. I went to college and sat in the back of every classroom. I took jobs in maintenance, data entry, and research, in positions where I could deal with other people as little as possible. For years I used my free time to write and write and write, and dreamed of the blessed day when I could quit going out in public altogether. I wanted to be a New York Times bestselling author, and have my groceries delivered, and write in seclusion and never face the peril of interacting with other human beings. Ever.
I fell in love with storytelling. I found real joy in bringing characters and plots and concepts to life on the page. I felt like writing was the only thing I was really good at and I hoped to find a way to make a living doing it. Then I took a look at what successful authors did. They appeared at conventions. They spoke on podcasts. They socialized with fans and other writers. They were gracious, and witty, and confident. I, meanwhile, got written up by a supervisor for being so bashful I was almost impossible to communicate with. I had spent my life not having good jobs, not having many friends, and not having anything akin to a social life because I was frightened. I wanted so badly to always be alone, because being alone meant being safe from awkwardness and misunderstandings. But being alone also meant I might never be the kind of writer I wanted to be.
For writing’s sake, I joined a Toastmasters club. I felt a little ill every time I had to stand up in front of people and speak, and I blushed and stammered, but I did it anyway. I had to risk making mistakes in front of people, I had to shake hands and make small talk. I started going to writing conventions, and signing up for critique groups and panel discussions. Even though it seemed like it would have been less stressful to volunteer for a mugging in a dark alley, I talked in front of small groups, and sometimes large ones. I applied for writing workshops, faraway ones that required travelling by myself and being around strangers for days at a time. I made myself pretend these things were not just possible, but easy. I discovered I could accept critiques in person, that I could smile and pay attention even when I wanted to wring my hands over my imperfections. I found out that awkwardness and misunderstandings could be survived, and that I could learn from them.
I hoped that all this effort would help to make me a famous, best-selling novelist, or at least land me an agent and a book deal, however modest. That hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it won’t any time soon. But writing has led me to a life less fraught with social anxiety. It’s shown me that fear might always be a factor, but it doesn’t have to determine who I am.