I was a voracious reader as a child. I still do love to read, but books don’t take up nearly as large a percentage of my time and attention these days. Before high school, I believe I spent more time reading than I did interacting with other kids, as a geeky introvert without many friends. Consequently, I cannot downplay the impact books had on my social education. A lot of what I know about the world and how it works, I learned from reading books.
Books provide lessons through examples. They portray people in scenarios, and ways that people respond to those scenarios. There is value in this kind of education, removed from personal experience. For example, I am glad that I learned how to respond to romantic relationships turned sour by reading about how people in books responded to them and drawing conclusions from there, instead of by having to go through bad romantic relationships first. I did not need to ask, “Is it okay for someone to insult me, hit me, and take my lunch money?” I already had the answer, from several children’s books: “No, it is not okay. Tell an adult.” I did not need to ask, “What should I do when my significant other claims to love me but hurts me?” I already had the answer, from the protagonists of my books: “Leave them.”
These are good lessons. However, there are holes to a book-based social education. Books could only prepare me for the scenarios that they were about. They only answered certain questions, and left others unanswered.
I had books that told me that bullies were people who were rude and who physically abused their victims, but none that told me about bullies who seemed for all the world like nice people. So for a long time, I did not recognize my bullies. When I asked myself, “Is it okay for these polite, smiling people who everyone says are nice to exclude me so much?” I had no book-provided answer. Though it was clear in hindsight, in the moment I just plain did not know that bullies could seem nice.
I had books that told me how to handle a romantic relationship gone sour, but none that discussed abusive friendships. So for a long time, I did not realize how bad one of my few friendships in junior high was becoming. When I asked myself, “Is it okay for this person who tells me I’m their friend to make me feel so stressed all the time?” I had no book-provided answer. Though it was clear in hindsight, in the moment I just plain did not know that friendships could be abusive.
This isn’t to say that the books taught me incorrect things. They just didn’t teach me some things that I needed, because they did not portray things that I experienced. A big part of what motivates me to write is to portray the things that I have experienced, so that someone who needs to know about that scenario will have my books to draw conclusions from.
Every now and then, I hear aspiring writers complain about not knowing what to write about. Here is my advice: answer the questions that you wish you had had the answers to sooner. What was a situation that you did not know how to handle at the time? For what do you wish you had had a book to tell you the answers? Write about that. You will help someone by doing so.