A Touch of Madness

There as many reasons people write as there are writers; as many resolves to continue writing in the face of obstacles as there are reasons to get back to the page after the knock-down of a rejection letter. Each of us writes for different reasons, but all of us share one thing in common: a terminal case of insanity.

As a lover of words and how they can tease and cajole, I’ve always loved this alternate definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Doesn’t that define most writers? What writer doesn’t continue sending out a manuscript or article, despite of the growing pile of rejection letters? Or constantly editing a story until it's right, only to lay it aside and, upon reading it months later, edit some more? Doesn’t that, well, describe one who has a touch of insanity?

The answer, of course, is a qualified no. One can easily look at writing as a work of the insane if following the definition above. It’s no stretch to think of spending hours writing towards some unknown reward without wondering if there’s a touch of the madness at work, but so be it. Outsiders can only watch and wonder why we do what we do; we who write understand the need to keep the hand moving despite the odds, the criticism, and yes, often stuck in a constant loop, trying the same thing over and over expecting different (better) results.

Susan Stamberg interviewed Edward Albee this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. While the focus was on Albee discussing the influence of Samuel Beckett on Albee’s work, at the end of the interview, Albee offered this profound observation:

Wouldn’t it be terrible to think you’d written your best work? I keep hoping that everything I write is going to be better than anything I’ve written before… otherwise, why write?

So ignore those cretins who don’t get it, the family members who nag you, hoping you’ll “come to your senses” and get a real job, or those rejectors who can’t recognize your talents… yet. Despite having a touch of the madness, it helps reminding yourself frequently why you write. Oh, and I almost forgot: don’t forget you have an appointment with the tailor at 2 this afternoon. You want to look fashionable in your white jacket, don’t you? The one with those really long, self-hugging sleeves? I thought so.

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