Recently, I began reading the Teach Yourself series of books directed towards writing. I took interest in them after I noticed the “Getting Started in Creative Writing” edition at my sister’s house not long ago. Within this book is an exercise that led me to the question of this post; Are Writers Stalkers? The specific exercise (Exercise 17, Page 38) stated:
“Take yourself off into your nearest town or village. Spend some time really looking at your fellow citizens. Find someone who is as different from yourself as you can. Someone much older, say. Or much younger. And follow them. Keep a discrete distance but stay close enough to be able to watch how they move. If they are with companions, try and overhear what they say. You could even begin this exercise in a café, overhearing what your fellow customers are talking about and then following a selected target as he or she leaves the premises. Try and gather as much information about your target’s life as you can and then, safely back at home, make some detailed notes. This should give you enough material on which to base a central character”
I will be honest, when I first read that exercise, I was a little offended. Is this writer’s book actually asking me to stalk someone? The definition of the word stalker according to the Google (yes, I said the Google, is “a person who stealthily hunts or pursues an animal or another person”. In my over-thinking mind, the exercise was asking me to violate a person’s privacy, and is quite frankly, no different than stalking. I could see little separation from the two forms of following other people, and I was creeped-out. Majorly.
After thinking about the exercise, and the definition of a stalker, I found myself looking back on some of my notes. I often take notes on the subway, and a particular one caught my eye upon review. I had been sitting across from a man I took great interest in. I noted that he was wearing steal-toe boots, beige cargo-style paints that were covered in paint. He had headphones in and was rocking out to the wave of tunes diving into his eardrum. I noticed that from the neck down, he looked as though he worked in construction, perhaps for a carpenter. He worked in colder temperatures as he was layered in plaid decorated, thick sweaters that were all equally covered in his work. He was eating steaming hot food out of a black to-go container. It was 8am, and it was not a breakfast meal in that container. I concluded that he is not an egg-loving man, at least not in my mind. From the neck up, he looked like a typical hipster. He had that messy just out of bed, but yet meticulously worked-on hair. Thick framed glasses rested on the bridge of his nose. Plugs did exactly that; they plugged the holes in his stretched earlobe. As he swung his head like a pendulum to the beat of the music, I couldn’t help but think he looked like two completely different people. That day, I took a page and a half of notes in my writing journal all on this stranger. This man who intrigued me, and confused me. I found myself wishing I knew more about him. Where was he going? Where was he from? Who was he with? What did he like? Essentially, I was wishing I could take time out of my day to follow him. I don’t know that I would follow, if given the opportunity, but I do know it crossed my mind. As soon as I thought about it, my head rang with the question “Am I a stalker?”
I was left struggling with this question, and dealing with feels of insecurity and uncertainty. The question itself threw me away from writing for a few days, honestly, because I was a little scared of myself, and my capabilities. I didn’t enjoy thinking of myself as a stalker, or being capable of such imposition of privacy. I never want anyone to feel threatened by my presence, to notice me lurking their way. However, I need people. People are my work. They are the muse for my writing. It’s the same need for almost every creative writer. So, what makes us different from a stalker?
Here is my weak justification towards not being a stalker.
A stalker usually maintains a lengthy fixation and develops an end game. Depending on their reasons for pursuing, the end game usually involves the target directly. For instance, with animals, the end is often death at the hands of a precise scope, and a blast of gun powder after hours of waiting and tracking. In some cases, humans meet the same sorrow-filled demise. Other times, it is a grand love gesture gone wrong, or some kind of worship-led mishap. A writer’s end game, on the other hand, does not directly include the target. In our case, the target is simply our muse, and we only fixate on them briefly so we can re-purpose their characteristics for later use as a fictional character. Our target’s life serves a purpose to create many literary lives.
The truth is, we aren’t all that different. As writers, we have to be careful not to frighten people with our curious minds. As a good practice, if I know I am making someone uncomfortable with my note taking or quick glances, I have no problem stating exactly what I am doing. If they ask me not to take notes, I am not going to take notes. No means no. In the end, I am not out to cause people any feelings of harm. I am out seeking the means to bring fiction to life. My end game is to write incredible fiction using incredible people. If you were once my muse, thank you. Especially thank you to the man on the subway having a bee-bopping good time while eating his not-so-breakfast, breakfast. You sir, helped me write this, and I kind of like it.
Lauren E Miller