Jotting in the Margins: The Need to Write


“…. Writing is anti-social. It’s as solitary as masturbation. Disturb a writer when he is in the throes of creation and he is likely to turn and bite right to the bone… and not even know that he’s doing it. As writers’ wives and husbands often learn to their horror. And- attend me carefully Gwen!- there is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized. Or even cured. In a household with more than one person, of which one is a writer, the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private, and where food can be poked in to him with a stick. Because, if you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears or become violent. Or he may not hear you at all… and if you shake him at this stage, he bites.”

This is how Robert A. Heinlein describes writers in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. He goes on to talk about “the need to write” which is apparently an incurable disease. It can be combated with different kinds of therapy. The character in question, ex-soldier freelance writer & gentleman about Luna Richard Ames, talks of a friend of his who was so affected by writing that he checked into an asylum.

“Cured him of writing, all right. But it didn’t cure him of the need to write. Last I saw him, he was huddled in a corner, trembling.”

I think that’s how it goes. I’m not sure where my copy of the novel is located. Might’ve left it in the box with the cat, just to see what happens. Anyway, the concept of a need to write isn’t without merit. Considering the arduous, time-consuming and often thankless nature of the business, many writers probably wouldn’t be writing if they didn’t need to. I know some people who are more talented with the art than they think but don’t do it for a variety of reasons.

However, once you get past a certain point and your dreams and ideas begin to take shape outside of your own head, all of the lost man-hours and eyestrain and rejection begins to matter less and less. You take these things in stride because a strange thing happens. It starts to become fun.

It’s never fun to get rejected, don’t get me wrong – form letters never lose their impersonal sting. That’s not what I’m talking about. The fun comes from the act of creation itself. Who cares if some berk over at Generic Adventures Monthly or Want More Twilight Publishing House doesn’t think your work is good enough? That’s their opinion. Your work is an entity onto itself and really doesn’t need the approval of others to justify its existence or its merits.

On the other hand, writers don’t write in a vacuum. If they did it really would be akin to masturbation. So if the more personal response from the potential publisher says they want tweaks in the story in order to pick up your work, by all means tweak away. The plants that bear the prettiest flowers and juiciest fruit don’t do it without some pruning. Be it by your own hand or the red pen of an editor, some metaphorical shears need to come into play before the words get baked into a delicious pie for general consumption.

The fact of the matter is, either way writers have a need to write. Rejection or acceptance, publication or obscurity, riches or poverty, writers need to write. If you can get good enough to make a living doing it, more power to you. But it’s a long, hard struggle to get to that point even if you are good enough, and that’s something I intend to explore more in-depth.

Especially once I get the panel pictures off of my camera. Those panelists really knew their stuff.

And are pretty damn good looking to boot.

1 Comment

  1. If Heinlein is right, then I have a disease that I like. I can’t help but compare that excerpt to Freud. How I hate St. Sigmund. I especially liked his comment on how ‘there is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized’.

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