The Big Idea: Wil Wheaton
Posted on April 12, 2022 Posted by John Scalzi 27 Comments
For most of the readers here, the name Wil Wheaton is a familiar and even beloved one: Actor, television host, famous nerd, and award-winning, best-selling audiobook narrator. And also, in case you didn’t know, an accomplished writer and essayist. In Wil’s new book, Still Just a Geek, he revisits an earlier work, revises and expands it, and in doing so, opens himself of to the truths within it, good and bad. And, as he explains in this Big Idea, finds a way through all of it, using his own voice.
When I narrated the audiobook of Redshirts, and got to the codas, I emotionally faced what it would feel like to lose my wife, and live the rest of my life without her. The story called for a very different set of emotions than I was feeling, and after a bunch of runs at the scene, the director and I decided that I needed to take a break, process all that emotion, and then come back to the booth.
About an hour later, we recorded what’s in the book.
Until I narrated the audiobook for Still Just A Geek, that was the only time I’d had that experience. It turns out that writing about and then narrating the single most traumatic event of my life was even more emotionally challenging, because it wasn’t a story. It was my life.
I never talk about how much I was abused when I worked on this movie called The Curse, after Stand By Me. It was such a traumatic experience, I’ve done everything I can to forget it. But it’s a big part of who I am, and when I did Still Just A Geek, it was part of my story that I needed to tell.
It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I was afraid that the emotion was too raw, too intense, just too much for the listener. I didn’t want to do it again, but I asked Gabrielle, who directed me (and who I’ve known forever) if it any of those things I feared were true.
She assured me that it was all honest, and all the emotions I experienced as I read it were entirely appropriate. I’ve known her long enough and done enough books with her to trust her judgment.
This is where I reveal that the director for Redshirts and the director for Still Just A Geek are the same person. She’s been there on the other side of the glass for both of these intense, emotional experiences.
That scene, from Redshirts, was tough, but absolutely worth it. I believe the performance is solid, and I’m proud of it. When I was done, though, I completely left it all in the booth. I told Anne about it when I got home, hugged her until she was like “okay that’s really enough” and we went on with our lives.
Put a pin in that for a second.
In Still Just A Geek, I write a lot about the child abuse, neglect, and exploitation I survived and still struggle with. It was incredibly challenging to revisit (and in the case of The Curse, relive) all of it. In the afterword, I wrote that I expected that doing that work would lead to a catharsis, but all it did was retraumatize me.
That was true, until I narrated the audiobook. Over the course of six or seven days, I said everything I wrote in the book out loud. I gave a voice to the child who was put to work against his wishes at seven years old. I gave a voice to the teenager who was abused by his father. I gave a voice to the young father and husband who was struggling to provide for his family while he also struggled to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
And in so doing, in speaking these words out loud, feeling the emotion that went with them, and defiantly saying, “This is my story. This is my truth. This is what happened to me, and here’s how I survived it,” I found the catharsis that the writing didn’t provide.
In the infamous William Fucking Shatner story that’s part of Just A Geek and now Still Just A Geek, I remember that, when my costumer asked me how my meeting with him went, I didn’t want to say out loud that he was a dick to me, because that would make it real. But saying it out loud set in motion the most incredible series of events, as the adults in my life on the set of Next Generation all stood up for me, protected me, defended me, and made sure I knew that I was loved. That’s something I never got at home, or ever, from either of my parents.
When I did the narration for Still Just A Geek, saying what I wrote out loud made it all real. I’d been hoping my whole life that I’d hear from my parents that my experiences were real, were valid, and that I was enough. I have had to accept that I’m never going to hear that from them, but I have heard it from myself.
It turns out that the voice I always needed to listen to was my own, and doing that audiobook narration allowed me to hear it for the first time in my life. I didn’t leave it in the booth. I have it now, in my memory, and I’ll keep listening to it as long as I need to, until my healing is complete.
Still Just a Geek: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.
That specific coda is the exact reason why Redshirts is still my favourite thing John has ever written. It is deeply emotional and incredibly realistic. That was brought to a whole new level by Wil’s actions.
Thank you both for that moment. It is truly special.
I can’t wait to read this book.
Thank you for this. I can only imagine how hard it’s been to have to go through all this IN PUBLIC. You are an inspiration. Wishing you all the best.
Wil, I’m tearing up, hearing that you went through that. My childhood was similarly crap. I didn’t tell anyone about it at the time, both because I was scared & ashamed, but also because I didn’t have the words, or felt like I had anyone I could safely talk to at the time. It wasn’t until 30-40 years later that I realised that there were people – like a few of my HS teachers, & a few other kids – who could see that I was having troubles & did their best to make things easier for me. I’m glad you’ve survived everything, & I hope things continue to get better for you. hugs
Your performance in Redshirts, particularly the coda, was brilliant. We listened to that coda on a long car trip (in the dark in the rain!) with tears streaming down our faces. Thank you for that.
I’m tearing up a bit thinking about it… and thinking of your childhood. I am glad TNG cast behaved as adults ought to behave. If only all adults did.
I love ‘Redshirts,’ but have never listened to the audiobook because I own the physical book. But reading this I’ve decided to get the audiobook to hear Wil (I LOVE his narrations on other Scalzi books) and to buy his memoir to support another one of my favorite artists. Half of what I enjoy about ‘Picard’ and ‘Discovery’ on Paramount+ is watching Wil’s ‘The Ready Room’ after every episode. If you’re not watching it, do yourself a HUGE favor. Wil is a fantastic & enthusiastic host, I feel good just watching him. Wil has alluded to how his childhood sucked on TRR, so it’s time for me to hear the bad with the good. More power to you, Wil, and thanks for spotlighting his book, John!
Wil, my heart goes out to you. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression for many years, and didn’t realize how much of that came from my own childhood until recently, hearing another man write about their own experiences with such honesty and vulnerability is very much appreciated. Knowing that it’s not something “wrong” with me. That the normal I grew up with was not right. Has made all the difference in my own life, the enjoyment of it, and what I pass along to m own children. Thank you.
I’ve only seen a few episodes of ST:TNG over the years, barely knew who ‘Wesley Crusher’ was, and since I can’t really do audiobooks I am new to the bundle of angst-ridden charm that is Wil Wheaton.
My husband and I started watching the new ST series when they began streaming, and truth: my favorite part is The Ready Room. I’ve always loved behind-the-scenes stuff and hearing directly from creators about their work. I hope all the ST people keep feeding their new material to Wil so I can experience it through TRR and sorta kinda come to know the man behind the nerdery.
I’ve not read the original, but I’m definitely going to be reading this.
As a side note, Wil is 100% the reason I’m also a Scalzi fan. Back in 2007 in his blog, Wil linked to a piece here at Whatever about the existential plight of being a cereal box mascot, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Love Wil and his narration of Scalzi books. Nobody does snark better than these two guys! I had read Andy Weir’s The Martian in hardback when it came out and only recently learned that WW did the narration for the audiobook. I’m about a quarter of the way through that now and loving it. Another good snark pairing!
You’ve helped me deal with my own childhood of violence, abuse and abandonment. Thank you, Wil. You’re Good People.
This might be one of the best Big Ideas I’ve read. I’ve been looking for a few ideas to use some Audible credits, and I think I’ve found at least one. Kudos to you Will, for your strength and bravery and honesty.
Thank you for sharing Wil. Those of us who are survivors of abuse know all too well what you are describing. This quote from Anne Lamott helps me: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
I grew up watching Wil, first in Stand By Me and then on ST:TNG. I’ll be looking forward to this book, and thanks to everyone in the comments who suggested The Ready Room! As we are fans of Discovery and Picard, I think my family will really enjoy the commentary.
I idolized your character on TNG, I was just out of high school your character reminded me of me in school, I got the character of Wesley and I hope he returns, maybe in Lower Decks.
I also admire you as a human, we share similar life experiences and I enjoy all your writing!
I read Just a Geek, but I think the audio book of Still Just a Geek is the optimum decision here. I have a long drive for vacation next month and I think this will be perfect for that.
Isn’t he that guy who is Sheldon’s Nemesis in the Big Bang Theory?
Just kidding, I’ve seen him on the small screen for many years and still recall fondly is character in TNG (even if he also got a lot of hate for that).
Wow I haven’t commented on a blog in over a decade. I think it’s closer to twenty years.
Oof. I feel that in surprisingly specific ways.
So I just wanted to say thank you for your kind comments, y’all. And thank you, John, for asking me to do a Big Idea. It’s kind of a big deal for me.
Some people are born into privilege and get every advantage and turn into right bastards, and I just want to strangle them.
And then there is the person who was born into terrible circumstances, horrible families, terrible upbringings, but they manage to get out, and they do the work, they grow, they develop, they look at themselves and give themselves the lessons that their parents should have but didn’t, and they become this kind, generous, self-aware, responsible adult, and I just want to hug them.
Thank you, Mr Wheaton, for being who you are. The world would be a better place with more like you.
I got the Just a Geek ebook in one of the very first Humble/indie bundles I came across. I’d never really heard of Wil before, but knew Stand By Me very well as we had a copy we’d taped off TV.
I loved being invited into his world, seeing his struggles, and watching him discover that he was a writer. And since then I’ve read his blog on and off. (Sometimes I hesitate because I know his posts might be an emotional ride that I’m not ready for that morning.)
Keen to listen to his catharsis when the audiobook comes out tomorrow.
We’re such wonderfully strange figures, we human beings. I feel it in my bones, the way that it’s so terrifying to say things out loud, as if we have some kind of magic power to speak reality into being. But the thing is, somewhere, deep down inside, we already know it’s real. We know how absurd it is to try and not speak the name of the elephant in the room. So when we finally speak our truth, that part deep inside says “Thank God, that part is over with. Now we can begin the work of dealing with that ugly reality instead of squandering all of our energy living in denial of it.”
Wonderful Wil! So very sorry you had to go through all that!
I downloaded my Audiobook this morning, and can’t wait to listen. I’m a little bit irritated that I’m finishing up another book that I love and it’s preventing me from starting immediately. Why didn’t I listen faster?
Thank you for your excellent writing and reading, Wil, and especially for sharing your life and feels with us.
That’s a pretty cool gig narrating audiobooks and being told my whole life I have a good radio voice, I thought, “hell, I can do that.” But nobody said there would be reading involved!
Well, I think I’ll have to read that. Which I actually did not know, so thanks.
Much love to you for being brave and forthright about your biography. I was fortunate to have parents (and aunts/uncles/G’parents and dogs) who supported all of us kids back in the ’50s.
At the same time, one day I wasn’t allowed to walk down the hill to school any more, which was a steep country road, maybe for a little kid a 15 minute stroll. The dogs greeted me outside the school in the late afternoons to escort me home.
Much later I learned that my father, a small town newspaper editor was receiving threats from a crooked politician, one of which was phone calls taking about throwing acid on his kid — Me. Right out of Middle Eastern terror, right here in small town WV. I was never actually harmed, but my elementary school years changed quickly.
Paint and tar was thrown on the house, weedkiller sprayed on the trees and rhododendron; of course they all died. But Dad continued to call a crooked pol crooked, and in the Supreme Court he was vindicated in a decision that is still in the libel textbooks.
TL;DR — I can related to anyone’s story of young terror.
I also wish I could write about those years from 1955 to 1973. It was a strange trip indeed.
ALSO: Thanks for all you have done in your career and life to help others deal with their own issues~!!~
[Deleted for being a twit. Also deleted the response to this comment; that person wasn’t being a twit, but as I deleted this comment, that comment was no longer relevant — JS]