The Kindness of Writers

In 1962, as he gave his Guest of Honor speech at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon delivered the following anecdote about writer’s block and fellow novelist, Robert Heinlein. It is one of my favourite examples of kindness between people, and one of the only examples I know of this kind of professional kindness between writers.

“I went into a horrible dry spell one time. It was a desperate dry spell and an awful lot depended on me getting writing again. Finally, I wrote to Bob Heinlein. I told him my troubles; that I couldn’t write—perhaps it was that I had no ideas in my head that would strike a story. By return airmail—I don’t know how he did it—I got back 26 story ideas. Some of them ran for a page and a half; one or two of them were a line or two. I mean, there were story ideas that some writers would give their left ear for. Some of them were merely suggestions; just little hints, things that will spark a writer like, ‘Ghost of a little cat patting around eternity looking for a familiar lap to sit in.’

This mechanical, chrome-plated Heinlein has a great deal of heart. I had told him my writing troubles, but I hadn’t told him of any other troubles; however, clipped to the stack of story ideas was a check for a hundred dollars with a little scribbled note, ‘I have a suspicion your credit is bent.’

It is very difficult for words like ‘thank you’ to handle a man that can do a thing like that.”

The letter sent by Heinlein just two days after being asked for help was directly responsible for two of Sturgeon’s subsequent stories–“And Now the News” and “The Other Man”.

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