Wikipedia, our friend for all seasons, refers to Robert A Heinlein as the “dean of science fiction writers”. Agreeably so, given that Starship Troopers was a product of his genius during the seminal years of his career. Well, we aren’t going to get started on Heinlein’s life and career, or on science fiction, but on a line that was so aptly stated by him in probably one of his sanest moments. “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”
Shocking as it may sound to the very many who are enamored by the idea of writing, Heinlein’s statement isn’t completely devoid of justification. And for the benefit of those who are a page behind, we aren’t talking about writing copies for lingerie ads or for porn magazines. Simply writing, stop. So, why on earth would anyone want to suspect writing being regarded in any light other than of nobility, let alone harbor ideas of shame? There is obviously no clear answer to this, and ideally shouldn’t be either, lest we have impressionable minds conveniently opting to stay away from writing, with the contentment of being justly forewarned.
In making an attempt to understand the reason for the celebrated author making such a disparaging statement, we could perhaps start with figuring out what the world’s population thinks of writers. People with the slightest inclination towards the letters always appreciate the effort of writing and shower due recognition on the words that set them thinking as well as on those who pen them. That said, a regular writer is not always feted though the readers are quite happy and comfortable reading his or her work. Hobby writers and bloggers are spared of this rule apparently. Perhaps because they write over and above their daily responsibilities at work and home. They write as it’s their passion and not necessarily their profession. And perhaps because what they write is mostly creative and very colorful. This appears to be pretty much the import of the general attitude towards occasional writers vis-à-vis regular writers. As Leo Rosten, the American academic and humorist famously remarked “The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it”, it happens that regular writers see few other options outside the realm of their profession to show their expertise, and they can’t help but continue being the abused lot. People who write daily aren’t doing anything glamorous and earth-shaking apparently, as compared to investment bankers, software engineers or legal consultants. A writer helps achieve things as opposed to achieving things. A legal writer develops material to be read by lawyers but doesn’t argue in the court of law, a technical writer writes about the product specifications but doesn’t build the product, a marketing writer prepares marketing collateral but doesn’t sell, and last but not the least, a journalist writes about events, but isn’t a news maker himself! But hey, a fellow blogger became famous because he blogged, and consequently wrote a novel and made the big time! A superstar manages to remain in people’s minds because he blogs when he’s not facing the camera. A medical practitioner penned novels in his first language and he’s now a cool doctor. He has a yen for literature, you see!
Writers – everyone who writes – can take heart in the fact that they are writing to be read. In this era of information cloudburst, the written word counts like never before. And more the hunger for information, more the writers are in demand. The sequence is clear – from information to opinion, from opinion to decision. While popular perception may certainly not change overnight, there’s every possibility that you will be writing your way through the night! It may well be not too long before many of this ilk would quote Somerset Maugham in solemn agreement, “We do not write because we want to, we write because we have to.”