Writers don’t ‘work.’ Do they?

“I have to work,” I tell my father.

“What work?” he says. “You don’t have a job.”

Actually I do, a part-time music minister gig, but that’s not the work we have been arguing about for the last 30-plus years. I’m talking about my writing and writing-related activities. He does not see it as work because I don’t have a boss, don’t keep regular hours, and don’t get paid every two weeks. No benefits either. But I still work.

One time years ago, when I was freelancing for several different publications, I handed him three new magazines with my articles in them and told him, “Don’t ever tell me I don’t work.”

He hemmed and hawed and continued to think I was a deadbeat because I really didn’t want a 9 to 5 job, because I insisted I was already too busy to get a job.

My dad is not a monster. He’s a wonderful man. I love him and admire him. He seems to be proud of my books, but he also seems to think they appear by magic. He doesn’t get that they happen by working day after day, just like a, well, like a job.

Dad is not alone. People don’t seem to get what we writers do. Folks I meet socially are always asking if I’m still writing or if I’m working on another book. Of course I am. That’s what I do. They also seem to think that I’m free any time of day for socializing, volunteer activities, or whatever. When I say, “I have to work,” I can see the wheels turning in their minds. Did she get a new job?

Nope. Same old one. And stop trying to find me a new one.

My old Webster’s defines work as: “activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something; sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result.” The noun version: “something produced or accomplished by effort, exertion, or exercise of skill.” Don’t we writers do that?

Work in our culture is something most people do reluctantly because they need the money. They look forward to weekends, vacations and retirement so they won’t have to work anymore.

But I like my work. I love Mondays. And I don’t plan to retire. Ever.

Writing is not a job. It’s a vocation. It’s a life. I would still write if I never made a cent because that’s what I do. It is my labor but also my recreation. I call it work in an effort to make the rest of the world understand that what I do is important and necessary.

Now, the IRS has a whole different idea about these things. (You can read a post about taxes here.) If you want to deduct your writing expenses as business expenses, then you have to show a profit or at least show a strong effort to make a profit. Otherwise, to the government, writing is a hobby.

No. Scrapbooking is a hobby. Writing is what I do.

Substitute any of the arts for writing, and it’s the same thing. Our culture is so profit-driven it can be challenging to claim time and space for our “work.”

How about you? Do you see your writing as goofing off, work, job, hobby or craft? Is it just as valid if you never sell what you write? Do you find non-writers don’t understand? Please share your experiences in the comments.

Richard Ford wrote a wonderful essay on this subject for the Guardian in which he asks, “I write novels and stories and essays for a living. But is it work?”

Marie Brennan also tackled the subject on her blog in “Writing as Work.” I love her conclusion: “Writing produces a recognizable product. That product has value. And creating it is work. It may not happen the way “normal” jobs do. It may even be fun—but folks, it is work. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Even your father.

Now go write.




>Advice for graduates

>I found some great advice for journalism grads and wanna-be reporters on a UK blog at this address: http://onlinejournalismblog.wordpress.com/2007/07/31/advice-for-journalism-graduates. In summary, j-school professor Paul Bradshaw advises: 1) Get a job, any kind of job. It looks better to potential employers, plus it gives you access to information, ideas and contacts. 2) Start a blog where you can practice writing, create samples of your work, prove you can commit to working on something, and expose your name and work to the world. 3) Get involved in the area you want to report on. 4) Buy a phone that takes pictures and audio so that if you find yourself in the middle of a story, you can send it in. 5) Develop an eye for news. Always be looking for stories, writing them up and sending them out.
Bradshaw specializes in Internet-based media. You and I may not be as high-tech as he is. We may still be figuring out our word processing programs. But I second his advice to keep your eyes open for stories at all times. When you find one, don’t sit on it. Write and send a query, an article, an editorial, with pictures if you have them. Do something with it. Do it today. As someone who used to have printers literally take the pages out of my hands, I can tell you newspapers don’t wait for anyone and news spoils faster than potato salad left in the sun.