Why I Will No Longer Treat Writing Like a “Job”

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Couple ‘a things. First of all: I love my job. Being an agent, that is. I don’t mean to brag, but seriously. I love it. It makes me happy even when it makes me want to rip my hair out (an agent friend and I have a term for this feeling: BlissPissed). I don’t associate “work” with negative things, but with excitement, challenge, adventure. I even like the word “work.” I like to say it. It makes me feel good.

Yes, I know. There’s something wrong with me.

I also love writing. But I love it in a deeper, less freewheeling way. Writing doesn’t come as naturally. More like pulling teeth. My muse is stingy, and if I only wrote when I felt like it, I wouldn’t have written a word since seventh grade.

And so, for nearly a decade, I’ve treated writing like a job. By which I mean sitting down at a regular time, five days a week (I always shoot for six, usually hit somewhere around four). You do it when you don’t feel like it. You do it when the muse isn’t present. You even do it when you’re feeling under the weather. You don’t make excuses. You set the appointment and you keep it, damn it.

But maybe writing shouldn’t be treated so brutishly. Maybe writing shouldn’t be treated like work. Work is the meat n’ potatoes of your week. It’s the everyday thing. What you do when you’re on. But maybe writing should feel a little separate, not like a job, but something more like, well…church.

I’m not a religious guy. I went to church when I was a kid, and that was it. But when I did attend, my understanding was that church was a time to put aside the weekly concerns, the getting-by stuff, and focus on something that was not the everyday, but more fundamental, more important, more basic. It was a time to check in with oneself, to put aside a few hours to prioritize something deeper, more personal, quieter, and away from the outside world of production.

I used to want to bring my writing into harsh daylight. To force it to take the bus, teach it to thrive under halogens. To toughen it up in the workplace. But now I want to treat writing more delicately. I still want to write everyday (some people go to church everyday right?), but when I sit down at my writing desk, I refuse to do so mechanically. I want to stop what I’m doing, stop life, stop work, stop job, and get in touch with something that’s a little more personal, a little more Kumbaya I guess, but essentially a little more special than work.

Maybe my passion for my job is why I’m sensitive to the difference between Work: something I love, and Writing: something I love that requires more of me than intelligence and effort. It requires I be a little quiet, that I make time to— hell, indulge in— a little silence. I will allow writing to be an important and sacred (there, I said it) part of my life. Something that dives deep to the root of me, who I am, not just as a worker, but as a human being, as a creature sensitive to the universe and sentient. Not just a pair of hands and a brain, but an animal with a soul.

Stephen King said come to the page however you want, but do not come lightly. There’s a difference between every day and everyday. Make space. Make a space. Make it count.

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10 comments

  1. I had a weird moment of this the other night at a party, upon meeting someone I didn’t know. She told me what she did for a living (reading technical manuals to teach computer/IT skills to others). I felt weird telling her I was a writer. First of all, I haven’t sold a novel. As soon as I tell people I write, they of course ask WHAT I write. After this woman confessed to not reading anything but technical manuals for work, how do I explain what I write, Urban Fantasy, when she hadn’t read anything for pleasure in years, if not decades?

    Hubs saved me by telling her it’s sort of like Harry Potter for grownups. At least she’d heard of Harry Potter, and got the idea that there was magic and weirdness. But as a JOB? I don’t think of my writing as a job, as work, either. Sure, it is a lot of work to make words on a page into a coherent story, but it’s not the same kind of work as most other people do. I can’t turn it on and off like a switch.

    I really like your comparison to going to church. You’re supposed to shut off all the other worries and focus on that inner something that is the story. Writing for me is less like work, and more like communing with imagination. Next time someone asks me what I do, I’m going to tell them that, and let them draw what they will from it. I’m an imagination conduit. 🙂

  2. Interesting. I know what you mean. I think it depends a bit on what people mean by “work” and “job”- the negative connotations those words sometimes carry can taint how we think of writing for a living. Thanks for the thought-provoking ideas!

  3. I think perhaps there is a difference between writing as a concept and the act of writing. Writing is my life, while my “job” is not; however the act of writing is not always a profound experience. Sometimes it’s hard to get the words down, and sometimes my writing schedule needs to be structured, much like my work schedule.

    Just as work can sometimes be rewarding, so it is the same with writing, and perhaps all passions. When I trained horses for a living I loved my job, but it was still my work.

    Perhaps the terms “work” and “job” have just developed such a negative connotation in today’s vernacular. Your work doesn’t need to be unfulfilling. Your work can be your passion. For me, writing is my passion, but when I sit down to work on my novel, I am working: working on creating the best book I can write.

    It’s not a negative thing for me to associate writing with work. When someone asks: “What’s your dream job?” I reply, “Writer.” For writing to be my work is the ultimate goal, so why not start now and develop better habits?

    Thanks for posting, definitely some food for thought.

  4. “There’s a difference between every day and everyday.”

    Yes. Thank you for reminding me. The mentality of this post is what I think I’ve slowly been working toward for the past year or so. You’ve captured it all quite nicely, and even as a non-religious person, I think the metaphor is apt. Thanks again. 🙂

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