Is being a Writer a CareerBeing a writer is a career
Are you writing a job or a vocation?
Every fortnight two authors deal with issues around the book in bookends. Benjamin Moser and Dana Stevens are discussing this weeks whether being a writer is just a career or a greater ambitions. The best letter does not have the immediate, quantifiable effect of a physician or tinsmith.
When I came from the mystery of youth from the readings to the writings, the authors who drew me, the authors I wanted to be, those who saw the writer as a member of a priestly class, those whose conception of literary as a means of comprehending the self and the whole body provided a precious opportunity for my being.
The authors who moved me were those who wanted to make something of themselves, and who provided me and others with a means of comprehending and thus uplifting our day. Maybe I was assigned to vocational training - but unlike the ambition, the vocational training at schools was not much valued; and when I came back from a Benedictine convent for a whole month and knew how much I wanted to remain, I never spoke of the sublime ideas that I had made of this.
It took me much longer to acknowledge that I wanted to be a writer than to acknowledge that I wanted to have sex with men. "An author is someone for whom it is more complicated to type than for others," said Thomas Mann; and it is good that no novice can imagine how tormenting it is, or how little it is improving in reality, or that the true refusals do not come from writers, but from our own consciousness of the gulf between meager talents and high call.
Scared of this void, the authors are destroyed: by the collapse of what is known as writer's inhibition; by the collars we use to get past it. There is no young writer who knows how uncommon it is to be inspired - or how it turns out to be the true gift that is driven every single workingday by self doubt that surrounds our foggy business, trying to believe that typing is important as it was when we started.
I can' believe that it is important to have literary - the writings of other peoples. However, to believe that our own scripture, incomplete, uncompleted, unfinished, unavoidably inadequate, could be of importance to anyone else. The best letter will never have the immediate, quantifiable effect that the work of a physician or tinsmith has. In order to find out whether we are on the right path, we can and become possessed by our "careers", that is the term we use for what others of us think.
Because as tough as it is, typing hardly ever felt like a proper work. It' sombre that it' s supposed to be a true work. A writer is distinguished from a hacker by his inner meaning, which is often unspeakable in a professionalized world. She has not made her vocation a career, any more than Franz Kafka, Fernando Pessoa or Wallace Stevens or one of the million authors who have never deserved a pennycent.
An abandoned clergyman is forever a cleric, and a writer - regardless of publishing or reading or "career" - is always a writer. Independently, even from typing. After all, typing is something you do. Being a writer is something you are. Former New Books editor for Harper's Magazine, he currently writes the authorised autobiography of Susan Sontag.
Obviously, a writer will tend to say that typing is a vocation - that's our work. It was when I chose to become a writer - or, as I clearly felt then, when I realised that I would become one. In the following years I never deviated significantly from this ambitions, and from an early age the letter was something I always did, in the formal channel and not:
Writing poems for the school's literature journal, making an illuminated children's novel for a much younger female co-worker and starting with a novel á clever about the back stage of a toy game, the remains of which I had been carrying around in a cardboard case for years. At some point around secondary modern my vague idea of the literature destined for the next had changed from a writer to a journalist, largely because of "Lou Grant", a drama spin-off from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", in which Ed Asner's cursory-only editorial personality moved to Los Angeles to work for a newpaper.
I' m paying for the taxi fares and shoes by being a real writer - no longer as a blurred egotistical idea or TV-based claim to life-style, but as a sometimes satisfying, often gruelling, rarely sufficiently rewarding work. It has become my daily living and my daily life, my maker and destructor, the mission that I never seem to do enough of (or good enough for).
Publication speed and the shortage of work places in the age of the web can make a writer long for the relatively nourishing working environment of Lou Grant's newspaper (or even better, the convenience of a plane tree industry). At this point in my live, I am oscillating between "job" and "vocation" in the exact incidence of fear - that is, at this point in my existence, discernment means little.
Really, the last one you want to answer this one is a pro writer, someone in whose everyday lives the terms imagination, commitment, craftsmanship, ambitions and economical existence have become a paradox. Obviously, we will tend to say that typing is a vocation - that is our profession (or at least our way of reassuring ourselves because we haven't found a better paid one).
She is a movie reviewer for Slate and co-host of the Slate Culture Gabfest podcasts. Stevens is a Slate movie reviewer and co-host of the Slate Culture Gabfest podcasts with the headline: Are you writing a job or a vocation?