It's true for some writers, but not for all. Others venture beyond home and chicken yard to engage in the world. Biographers love them, because their lives do make exciting copy. Moreover, they offer the chance to present history from the viewpoint of one participant. Walt Whitman, for example, stepped onto the world's stage during the Civil War, when he went to Washington, D.C., to search for his wounded brother. Witnessing the aftermath of battle and "what sick men and mangled men endure" impelled him to be a nurse in the city's wretched military hospitals. John Steinbeck became a voice for the Dust Bowl refugees of the 1930s, and he later spoke out against the government's persecution of suspected communists in the 1950s. During the period of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, he traveled to Southeast Asia to see the fighting there for himself. The experience transformed him from an unqualified supporter of the war to a doubter of his nation's ability to achieve success in it. "If I could shorten this war by one hour by going back to Vietnam, I would be on tonight's plane with a one-way ticket," he said. For Ernest Hemingway, experience was a necessary part of writing. He came under fire in three wars and found the inspiration for a novel each time. Clearly, these were lives of action.
Yet for every Whitman or Steinbeck or Hemingway there is a retiring writer like O'Connor, or like me. To an observer our days may pass uneventfully as we study and care for our birds, or marry and raise a child, but we live active and satisfying lives of the mind. Thinking, researching, and wrestling with words are daily challenges, sources of frustration at times, but also of joy. We make our mark on the world through our work, battling ignorance and intolerance every single day. At least I hope we do. We try.
In the end, Flannery O'Connor was wrong. Books have been written about her, and good ones, too.