One of the reasons I took solace in writing from an early age is because I experienced myself as a social incompetent. Starting with my family of origin, and largely due to the mess of the situation I found myself growing up in, I found people generally difficult: I was always getting it wrong, saying the wrong thing, provoking unwanted reactions. I had things I wanted to say, but opening my mouth and saying them proved, on the whole, to be a terrible mistake, so I would go away to a quiet corner and write them down. And then rewrite them. Again, and again, until I got it right and had found a form of expression that could not be argued with. Like a poem. Or a story.
Outside the family, thanks to my early training, my social incompetence continued. And though I have spent many years learning social competence – to the point that I can pass as reasonably adept – I still get it wrong incredibly often. Not just in speaking, but in emails and other typed correspondence. ‘For a writer,’ says my husband, ‘you are rubbish with words’. The trouble is, I don’t want to spend hours thinking how to respond to a query (especially as I am now getting so many of them) so I do it quickly. Then I get a response that makes me realise that I chose the wrong words. (Darn words. I am supposed to be good at them by now. Why are they still causing me such difficulty?) In addition, I am feeling increasingly wary, because I seem to be attracting (luckily a very small minority) of a) people who have, apparently, not the smallest idea of online etiquette b) (often combined with a) men who think my accepting their Facebook friend request is licence for them to hit on me c) people searching for personal information about me and d) (often combined with c) people pretending to be someone they’re not.
I want to protect my privacy, my writing time, my peace of mind – yet I want to remain open and friendly. (Says the woman who has unfriended/blocked three Facebook ‘friends’ this week alone). The balance seems hard to achieve. And as with all forms of social anxiety, the more I worry about getting it wrong, the more I do exactly that…
How does that Sam Beckett quote go?
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Working on it. At least, getting plenty of practice.