Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Charles and Emma, by Deborah Heiligman

I think the Darwins knew how to make love with their brains.
(Not to mention their bodies. Ten children?!)

As a writer, talking about writing and being a writer is one of the more complicated tasks I'm forced to undertake. The concepts are somewhat ethereal, a nuance which doesn't help matters. But what complicates the questions even more than the abstract notion of successful writing is that I'm not entirely sure what makes a writer tick.

Much easier is discussing what a writer is not. A banana. Aloe vera. Invincible.


The concept of a writer scribbling and tapping furiously in a lonely garret must have some basis. And sure, when it comes down to putting ink on the page, no one can do it for the writer. But neither can the writer do it by himself. Leastwise, I can't.

Writing is a labor of love. But what many readers overlook is that both the labor and the love are shared. Like its other forms, the love that goes into a book, a story, a treatise, or a poem (and ultimately into the writer who makes them) is varied, passionate, and weird.

Stephen King's wife held bloody towels under his nose so he could continue typing. That's love. J.R.R. Tolkien shaped the central relationship in his legendarium after his romance with his wife -- and as for life imitating art, their shared tombstone bears the fictional characters' names. That's love. Bill Bryson's overweight, middle aged, out of shape friend joined him on a trek along the Appalachian Trail just so Bill would have someone to hike with. (Not to mention a wife who was chill with him disappearing into the wilderness for weeks at a time.) That's love. Emma Darwin, a faithful nineteenth-century Christian, debated the nature of creation with her husband Charles for decades -- not in hopes of talking him out of his ideas, but out of a desire to help him test the mettle of his theories and make them as strong as possible before publishing them. That's love.

I might say that I can only hope to be as successful as those authors. But that's not true -- I can work my tail off in an effort to be as successful as those authors. I believe I can do it, too. My writing may not be as evocative, as epic, as humorous, or as revolutionary as theirs (yet). But I have one thing each of those authors has, the one thing without which they could not have written their books.


Anything can happen in a book. So in a very real way, love makes everything possible. With freedom like that, let's see what we can accomplish together, shall we?

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