Why Writers Should Come Out Of Their Caves

At Norwescon, I sat in a panel assembled to answer a pretty simple question: What benefit can writers get from leaving their caves? More the pity then that the panelists spent more time discussing how introverted they were, how much benefit they get from staying in their caves, and how the light and the outside world exhausts them.

Okay. I get it. You’re a writer. The myth and legend of solitary creation has so captivated you that you’ve dedicated your very life to getting as little human contact as possible. As one panelist put it, “If you aren’t getting something out of your writing, enjoying the very task, then why would you be there?”

Sure. But does forced solitude follow that? I like talking to people. I like capturing the spirit of how people are. I like social gatherings, time with friends, shit, time with strangers. Do I have to offer that up on an altar just cuz some late 19th early 20th century drunks pooled in the societal expectation griddle and congealed like thrice-cooked-and-rancid sausage fat? Does every other writer have to be battered and cooked in that shit?

“No, of course not,” was my thinking as I raised my hand.

“So let’s turn the discussion on its head,” I began after waiting my turn. “What do you do if you like socializing as a writer. And what benefits are there to socialization? Could you speak briefly on Writers’ Associations such as, for example, the SFWA, and how their pooled resources make things better for authors everywhere?”

The three panelists stared at me like I’d sprouted a torso from the back of my trenchcoat and that conjoined ogre had made busy snorting coke from my collar. Okay, maybe not cocaine. Dandramphetamine? Something like that. Point being, they had relatively no idea how to respond. Well, actually, they did:

“I think that’s all the time we have,” the moderator mumbled. The panelists evacuated at a pace to put an Olympian to shame.

I didn’t follow. I’d made my point. Besides, it was actually the last question they’d had time for, and it was an awkward one.

But let’s put aside major writing institutions, let’s put aside the fact that humans are social creatures, and despite some of their deepest desires, writers are humans. Let’s focus on simple benefits: A cloistered writer has one context, a writer locked in their cave, tap-tap-tapping away. Tapping til the clicks drive them nuts. Until Annie Wilkes brings their meds. You know a writer like that. We all do.

Second, you might actually learn something about your subject matter if you get out more. I write as an excuse to learn things I never would have before! Wonder how Vikings fought? Shit son (daughter?), there’s all kinds of books on that, plus classes, illustrations, whatever the hell you’d want to blend up and funnel down your ears, eyes, nose, mouth… butt? Too far? I heard you absorb information faster that way though! I won’t try it til you try it first though.

Hah! Are you trying to butt-funnel granulated info? Gross dude! I was just joking. Shit.

Anyways, this is completely ignoring the crass and commercial reason you should get out of your cave. If all you love to do is write, then you might want to someday make money at it. You know how not to get discovered? Sitting in a cave. You know how not to engage with fans? Rolling that boulder that you’ve been calling a cave door in front of the sunlight. You know how not to sell a book? I’m hoping by now you’ve gotten the point.

Besides, if, as one of the panelists put it, the job of the writer is to write (totally agree), isn’t it also the job of the working writer to put themselves out where their writing can be seen? I sure as hell think so, and although I haven’t conferred with them on the subject, Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, and Jim Butcher all seem to agree that some self-promotion isn’t writerly suicide.

And all of this is entirely ignoring the possibility that you could be a writer and an extrovert. Holy fuck, imagine that! You could discover, like me, that conventions are fun as shit, and you’re even more jazzed to get back to the cave and write some awesome stuff after you’ve gone to a good one. Hell, you might even write about what happened there on your blog, if you have one.

But no, forget that stupid communist drivel, you’re a writer, you must fit the mold society demands of you.

Even if you hate it.

I mean, that’s why you became a writer, right? To conform to societal expectations?

Totally.

Me too.

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