Tracy Lee Karner

The Writing Bug: causes, transmission, and treatment

Have you been infected by the writing bug? Do you want to know how to get somewhere with it, or maybe you want to know how to get over it? And is it contagious?
This overview will give you the information about the origins, the communicability and the known treatments for “The Writing Bug.”
Those afflicted by the writing bug must learn to manage their lives while living with their literary condition. At this point, no one is seeking a cure for the writing bug because the dominant popular assumption is that being a writer is an enviable thing. Further research is needed to determine whether or not this assumption is a misconception.
The writing bug is possibly caused by inherited and environmentally-induced propensities such as:

  • a poetic sensibility and a storied imagination;
  • an uncommon tendency to take intuitive leaps;
  • a heartfelt longing to understand what it might be like to live other lives;
  • and the need to discover the meaning of one’s existence.

Be aware that the writing bug can be spread from one person to another.

  1. The most infectious carriers are practicing writers who come in contact with a host, either person-to-person (in classrooms, conferences, seminars and at literary events), or through the publication and distribution of a writer’s work.
  2. Secondary infectors are teachers/educators, parents, and anyone who talks about books.

Beware especially of encountering good books, even if no one in your circle has talked about them.
The most susceptible hosts to which the writing bug will easily transmit are:

  1.  people prone to contemplation; and
  2. those who feel a need for empathetic connection.

The bug is especially contagious among young people who have not yet been exposed to sufficient cynicism. But all people–including adults–who have not built up immunity to the idealitic idea that there might be a purpose for living, are susceptible. Also anyone who has not become resistent to the hope that we might actually one day understand each other, is also prone to infection.
Interaction with young people produces the greatest risk for infection because young people have many habits that promote the spread of imagination. For example, they often play frivolously at fantasy games and imagine themselves as other people, even as animals and objects, frequently projecting themselves into non-existent fantastical worlds where good and evil do battle. In this way, stories enter and leave their minds and can then infect other people.
You can protect yourself against the writing bug by understanding that in order for the writing compulsion to infect a person, these things must happen:

  • Poetry must be present in the environment, either in the home, at school or at a local library or poetry reading. Poetry weakens resistence to the writing bug by increasing a person’s exposure to rhythm, imagery, metaphor, rhyme and repetition as they form beautiful and mesmerizing word-constructions;
  • Next, a person who is not immune to the power of poetry must come in contact with a carrier (a writer or book-lover) who will transmit the writing bug;
  • But only sometimes does initial contact lead to a full-blown infection. The probability of a life-long infection is amplified by repeat exposure to carriers. It takes incurable hold if the infected person surrounds herself with other infected people.

There are two known treatments for the writing bug–

  1. By writing, infected persons find relief from the nagging desire to explain and justify their inner lives. Unfortunately there is an addictive tendency involved in this pursuit. Anyone immersed in the life of letters tends to experience a financially unrewarding compulsion to develeop her literary knowledge and hone the art and craft of writing by joining writing groups, attending workshops and conferences, trying to complete a publishable work or entering an MFA program. Because of the addiction problems inherent in writing,, many people choose not to write.
  2. By not writing, however, infected people are condemned to suffer from an unsettling feeling that something essential and important is missing from their lives. Individuals with latent writing tendencies can still be recognized as infected, because they are often heard to mutter, “I really should be writing all this down.”

Over the next months I’ll be occasionally sharing with you (on the recommendation of a carrier named Richard Gilbert) the story behind my writing bug.
No, I’m not forsaking the travel itineraries/recommendations/reviews, and the food they inspire–those will remain my primary focus. But having been infected, I have to cope with occasional and unpredictable flare-ups of my writing bug.
If you have been infected, can you determine when and by whom? And which course of treatment have you tried? Has any strategy worked to help you live well despite having the writing bug?

21 thoughts on “The Writing Bug: causes, transmission, and treatment”

  1. Writing is definitely a communicable disease, and I have been infected. I blame a spunky little thing, with a zest for life, that told me that it’s OK for a writer not to be perfect. I think she’s a treasure, don’t you ???

  2. You’ve definitely diagnosed the illness, Tracy. But unless there’s a new vaccine that’s passed FDA approval recently–hand to forehead here!–those of us who’ve been stricken by the disease are doomed to endure it…

    1. Thanks Richard, and I think I’m grateful for the nudge. I’ve been having fun… I just hope this isn’t one of those super-replicating viral things because I’ve got laundry and dishes to do, family and friends to visit, books to read, books to write… oh-oh, I’m never going to get over this bug, am I?

  3. I think I was born with it but spent many years trying to suppress the urge to create other situations than the one I found myself in. Now, I’m pleased to say, I have found a comfortable balance – sometimes I write fiction, sometimes I travel write, sometimes I rant. Blogging is a great outlet for this and has made me realise what a common condition we all have.

    1. I’m finding there are a lot more writers in the world than I ever thought. To me, it’s like singing. Sure, some are amazingly “gifted” singers; but everyone who wants to, should be able to benefit from the joy of music. And everyone who feels an urge to write, and gives in to that urge, is a writer. And there’s no end to the growth available through the process…

    1. I tried cynicism, too. Dwight. It made me crabby. These days, I consider myself a critically-thinking, fun-loving, give-it-your-best-shot encourager/booster (cheering others on, as well as cheering myself on).

  4. Excellent post! I was infected by Mrs. Webley, my sophomore literature teacher who said I should be a professional writer based on my essays, poems, and short stories. She said I had a unique view and storied imagination. I responded by not writing until I met another carrier, Tamara Park, who suggested I write. I was 30 years old and have been writing on my blog and a fictional novel about a mafia hit man ever since.

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