What is work? Is writing work? If so, when, or at what point do you earn the right to call yourself a writer?
I chanced upon a very moving blog post yesterday by Jennifer Lynn Krohn that asks a version of that last question. What she said resonated with me and mirrors the struggle a lot of budding writers experience juggling their day jobs with writing. Yet, her post is not just about this struggle of the writer for her daily bread. For me, the post is also about defining herself as a person within the writing profession.
“When I was younger,” she says, “I would shy away from calling myself a writer because my writing wasn’t serious, wasn’t good, wasn’t published, wasn’t published in a paying magazine, and myriad of other reasons. I now say that the only thing that makes a person a writer is that they write.”
Many of us experience a struggle between writing and other jobs that we have to do in our daily lives. We have to decide on time management, allocation of effort, investment and commitment. Writing as a profession only pays the lucky few to justify its existence in their lives.
Yet, anyone who writes even a few words a day knows that writing isn’t easy, that it requires hard work and if there is indeed a muse who simply appears before one and writes through them, that flow of inspiration through their system sure leaves them exhausted like any other work.
Yet, people write on. People keep working at their writing in their different stations in life. Their writing is viewed in different ways depending on who they are. The rich are seen to cultivate writing as an “accomplishment,” something like how Jane Bennet may have played the piano in Pride and Prejudice. The college student writes despite homework and exams to express an aspect of themselves or to display a side of their identity to others or perhaps because they are not yet tainted with a cynical view of what work is. The depressed write to find themselves and the old write either to live life a second time or to leave the world a legacy. The poor write during their breaks from hard physical labour for reasons much harder to speculate on.
Are all these people writers? Is this writing work? What is work? Is work an activity that either yields pay or some kind of value from an employer or a social system built on consensus where the person who works is rewarded with money or some kind of social/cultural capital such as success and recognition or change that is desired by the writer?
Can writing, in other words, be defined by the usual parameters of what work is?
I don’t know. All I have is a post I wrote a while ago that I find strangely calming and somewhat strangely distanced from the daily humdrum of work. It begins like this:
It’s 4:30 am. It’s quiet enough for me to be able to hear the low gurgle of the refrigerator punctuated by the intermittent swishing sound of the heater as it’s coming on intermittently. The river is dark outside and the lights on the banks of the river are glowing like diamonds because it’s going to be a clear day.
The everyday sounds of the day in full blast are still mute. I can get in touch with a part of myself that turns my thoughts [to] writing.
Was this writing work?