Consideration of the writing life

A place to pursue the writing life

How much time and energy to give to writing? When does a hobby/avocation deserve to be considered as a full-time occupation? And even if writing (or any other ‘artistic expression’) does end up paying the light bills, of what else should life consist?

I read blogs and follow tweeps who wrangle with questions like these–and often, there’s a leaning toward going for the writing life. In some respects I like this: it’s great to have a gaggle of voices encouraging interest in the arts and pursuit of dreams. But in other ways, I wonder if there’s more to the story: Is this sort of life compatible with raising a family, or preparing for life’s second half? Does it depend overmuch on the generosity of others? Is it sustainable, once the first couple of projects are completed?

Lately I’ve run across a few who have been examining the nuts and bolts of a writing life, and concluding that dropping into this full-time requires a batch of pre-reqs. At the same time, each is still enthusiastic about writing. I’m appreciating that interplay.

In late March, I reviewed Shawn Smucker’s new book, which chronicles the ups and downs of building a life out of words. Smucker commends the way such a life resonates with deep-seated interests, but he’s also careful to explain that while this is his route (and one on which he embarked after not a little experience as a published author), it’s not for everyone who dreams of bashing away at a keyboard as the primary source of income. More recently, Shawn posted a blog that had the same candor as his book, and offered a handful of diagnostic questions for evaluating how likely such a life might be.

A tweet by Jane Friedman alerted me to Porter Anderson’s take on the topic, and I’m still processing what tumbled out of this bracing interview. Like every journey, Anderson’s is unique, but it also includes transferable lessons for those contemplating the writing life: write more than talk about writing; “become a professional in the field of your own potential”; expect to take years (not weeks or months) to get good at it. Writing, Porter Anderson says, should be the “aggressive default” that takes over no matter what else you’re doing if you plan on it being your full-time occupation. “If you think there’s a chance you can make a contribution, if the sculptor in you keeps overtaking your other careers, that’s your aggressive default. So wait. Work harder, work longer, cover yourself in the work.”

A third voice? It’s Bradley Moore’s, who warns against blurring the line between what we love and what’s important. Standing on the other side of fifty, and considering available choices in the remaining years, Bradley has a clear-eyed perspective on taking a leap into writing full-time. It’s right for some, but not all, he’d say–for most, the matter of paying the bills by ‘conventional’ means is the typical path. Does that mean giving up or selling out? Moore would say quite the opposite. For him, there’s “something valiant, even noble” about “showing up every day, being responsible, doing your job and taking care of business.”

Views such as these round out my thinking. They also help me realize that even if I don’t forge a career in writing, there is still ample room in my schedule to write–(a post by Glynn Young offers a glimpse into writing ‘in the margins’, while holding a different f/t job) and, that doing so yields stuff that is deeply satisfying to me and occasionally worth sharing with others.

9 thoughts on “Consideration of the writing life

  1. Thanks for the varied sources and voices on this topic. I especially appreciate Porter Anderson’s suggestion that development of writing skill is a matter of years rather than months. When you look around at most “successful” writers, you see that it has been a matter of steady and faithful plodding along in the craft for many, many years. Although I wrote a business book in the late 90’s, I only “discovered” writing as a more serious creative hobby about four years ago. I can’t believe how much my writing has improved since then, just by being consistently intentional about it.

    • I agree: time works to the writer’s advantage. That ‘steady and faithful plodding’–the regular practice that happens in a lot of other pursuits–is essential. Another reason to like blogging–and good encouragement to keep at the longer stuff, too. Thanks, Bradley!

  2. I write for an hour or two a day, but it gives meaning, pleasure and depth to the rest of my day. When I am not writing, I am listless and less engaged with life. If you can carve out an hour or two a day to write, you’re doing fine–and more than fine. There are a number of writerly careers based on two hours of writing a day–though more commonly four!

    • I like this way of describing how writing enriches life–and how much of it can happen in an hour or two. Of course, there’s discipline involved, but I’m thinkng that’s part of your point… Thanks, Anita.

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