The compulsion to write is inexplicable. My neighbors wonder what I do all day, huddled in my condo in the corner of our complex. I tell them I write. The response? “That’s nice.” They have no idea.
Apparently this compulsion doesn’t hit everyone. I accept this mentally, but emotionally, it’s a complete mystery. How can you not want to write?
I think Elmore Leonard must have experienced something similar. I was in my thirties, living in southeast Michigan and a member of the Detroit Women Writers, a group that’s been around for 123 years and is now known as the Detroit Working Writers (having decided a couple of decades ago to accept men into the group). It’s a juried membership, so I had to apply and have some publications, but I got in and met fabulous writers.
The group also put on an annual conference for 45 years. It was held at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and, one year, our after-lunch keynote speaker was Elmore Leonard. I was deputized to drive him to and fro. Irascible and impatient by nature, his personality didn’t improve with alcohol and it was clear to me (even though I’m not a doctor) that he was three sheets to the wind. It was 11 a.m.
I drove him to the university in silence and he sobered up a little over lunch because the university had a ‘no alcohol’ policy, so there was none to be had, assuming he hadn’t secreted a bottle or flask somewhere on his person. I don’t think he had because he was ready for his speech when it was time to go to the tiered auditorium in Dowdy Hall (our local name for the Donald and Jan O’Dowd Hall). I don’t remember the speech, but I will always remember the Q&A session afterwards.
After a few questions and answers, a university student raised his hand. “What do you do about writer’s block?” Leonard trembled with rage, grabbed the podium, and leaned forward in the student’s direction, his body still shaking. The student cringed, his back pressing hard against the seat as if he wanted it to swallow him.
Leonard’s voice rumbled. “Writer’s block? Writer’s block? You either want to write or you don’t.”