Because if you’re a writer, that’s what you’ve done. You’ve rowed out into the middle of the sea all by yourself, found a little island, rowed ashore, and got out onto the sand. The only thing you brought with you was a pad and a pen and a box of empty bottles and a pouch full of corks. Once safely on shore, you set your pad and pen and bottles and corks under a coconut palm up above the high-water mark, and then you came down to the beach and you stoved in the bottom of the boat.
Now you’re stuck. Which was exactly what you intended. The oddest thing about it all is that the next thing you do is try to get somebody to come out here and get you off this island.
You could almost define insanity in those terms.
But you’re a writer, so you sit down on the beach with your pen and pad and you start writing. You finish a page or two, and then it’s getting dark because the sun is about to set and there’s not going to be much more light for writing because twilight doesn’t last very long on a desert island, so you stuff the pages you finished in a bottle and you cork it and throw it into the water and you watch it drift out on the tide until the pitiful little thing is lost in the tumbling surf.
Next day you get up and do it again, all the while watching the horizon for a sail.*
Samuel Johnson might have been right when he said that nobody but a blockhead ever wrote except for money, but Johnson wasn’t a blockhead himself, and he also knew that motives and results are not always the same thing. And that’s just fine. There was a time when, if a writer’s bottle wasn’t found pretty soon, it never would be found at all. But that’s all changed now—electronic publishing has in a single master stroke just reinvented the venerable mid-list. The best part of the deal lies in the fact that bottles can float for a very long time indeed, these days.
Or maybe some people just like living on the beach. Maybe there is such a thing as art for art’s sake. The greatest novel or poem or play that has ever been written might be lying right now in some attic sea-chest, stuffed in a bottle and wrapped in a pea-coat because the writer never intended to offer it to the public, for whatever reason. The best that there is and the best that you ever saw might not be the same thing.
Or there’s a third possibility, a little more sinister than the other two. Maybe the idea is not to get rescued at all, but rather to get the rest of us out there with you.
Either way, it would probably be best for most writers if, whatever their motives, they liked living on the beach.
*(That’s sail, of course. Not sale.)