Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Writers as Lizards

Many of us moved around a lot as kids. Or were in some way put into new environments—new countries, towns, schools, neighborhoods, even new families—more than average. To survive, we became chameleons.
So what? you might well ask. 

Like the proverbial frog into a prince, a chameleon can turn into a writer.

One writer I know lived in 5 cities growing up, and attended 10 schools--including 3 different high schools.

Here’s what it taught her:

Every time she shuffled into a new place, she knew to lay low, hover on the periphery of the playground or cafeteria and observe. Be chameleon-like. Fade into the bushes or recycling bins. Take notes. And commit to heart the rules, the local players, the power structure, and most importantly, the unwritten rules of the new territory.

Then, getting all the elements down cold, she’d ease onto the playground blacktop, or into a seat at a target lunch table, affecting appropriate body language, carrying the proper gear, using the correct slang and wearing the right shoes.

One slip, she knew, and she’d be revealed as an imposter, an outsider.
We all know what can happen to the outsiders.

She was an outsider.  She identified with the other outsiders and underdogs. She learned to communicate persuasively, negotiate between rival groups, and honed her sense of humor and compassion.

It was empowering.  She gained skills a lot of other kids didn’t have.

Perhaps most critically, she came to understand that no matter whether the customs, costumes and language changed subtly or drastically, people’s needs, fears, and hearts were all the same.

It all came in very handy when she grew up and wanted to create worlds full of detail with characters in conflict and stories where different cultures—micro and macro—collide.

Who was this savvy, resourceful writer?

Okay, it was me.

Did you move around as a kid?  Or otherwise have to be chameleon-like? What did it do for you? 


  1. Wow, that's a lot of schools. I didn't move around a lot, but I was shy by nature. Consequently, people-watching was practically a hobby for me. I think it's helped in my stories, too. As a writer, it's given me a storage locker in my brain that's jammed with personalities, mannerisms, and quirks to draw from whenever I need to capture a character's identity on paper.

    1. I love the "storage locker in your brain," and agree! People watching, eavesdropping, we're always collecting material! Thanks for stopping by, Lynn.

  2. I knew it was you. :) Great observations, Ann. Many authors were outsiders, even if they stayed put. The need to observe, negotiate, and empathize were skills that led them to becoming writers.