Imagine that you are 18 years old. You are part of a successful ensemble cast on a hit television show. Just a few years previous to this you starred in an Academy Award-winning film. Half of your life to this point has been spent as an actor. Now you must make a critical choice: continue with this iconic show and possibly cost yourself a future career (outside of frequent convention appearances and occasional guest roles) or quit the show, possibly alienating “the powers that be”, and embarking on your promising career in film. The choice that Wil Wheaton made, the consequences of that choice, and his subsequent re-birth as a blogger-extraordinaire, are the subject of the autobiographical Just a Geek.
Geekoffers many “insider” stories from behind-the-scenes Hollywood. Wheaton candidly discusses various con appearances and the maneuverings of the powers of the Trekfamily, as well as his take on the trials and tribulations of a non-edgy young actor trying to succeed in an industry bent on finding the “edge”…and an industry that often succeeds in driving these actors to it. But most importantly, what Wheaton offers is himself.
The heart of this book is really the journey that Wheaton takes in learning to embrace who he really is, to find what he really wants, and to have the courage to look various naysayers and definers of “success” in the eye and say “Meh. I’m doing my own thing. And it’s great!” Wil really lays his heart and soul on the page. He details the inner turmoil that his early success wreaked on his psyche. He made choices whose results differed greatly than what he expected and doubted himself every step of the way. The mind games and circular logic that come to all of us in the dead of night (and sometimes in the light of day) are on full display. There is no image-posturing or victim-hood here. Unlike other so-called “celebrity” biographies, he reveals the details of his inner life not as an advertisement, not as a justification, but for the best reason any author has: because it is the Truth.
Of course, truth or not, it wouldn’t work if the book wasn’t so darn entertaining. If you’ve followed Wil’s acclaimed blog (WillWheaton.Net, now “in exile” over at typepad.com), you know that he’s one of the wittiest writers on the web today. Just a Geek reveals how his writing evolved over time and how he found his element as a writer. I read this book over the course of two days (sorry, I had to sleep and go to work at some point). You want to follow his journey. You want to see what happens next. You want him to find his way, stop worrying, and learn to love the Trek.
I think that it is this drive for truth that allows Wil to connect so well with his readers. He’s not playing them, or himself. He’s exploring, figuring stuff out. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers and, with great style, punches holes in the egos of those who do. He’s battling the classic writer’s hydra of “Proving Yourself” and “Self Doubt”, sometimes winning and sometimes not, but always fighting. By sharing this battle with us, he not only exorcises his inner demons but allows other writers to confront their own. He’s just this guy, and if he can succeed, we can too.
This is a lesson that a lot of writers, especially this one, should take to heart. When those twin voices of “Proving Yourself” and “Self Doubt” start their screeching (and they will screech), you must learn to set them aside and find your own path; otherwise they will drive you to destroy yourself.