Thursday, September 29, 2011

writing like it's the day job


Writing, for most writers, is a philosophical pleasure that needs to be supported by a day job. And maybe that's not such a bad thing. Most of us do want our books to be published and read, but except for a chosen few, the rewards are apt to be very modest for the long hours and energies invested in the writing.

The writer, Don Lee, describes a common chain of thought and events accompanying publication, as told in his interview by Jeanie Chung (Oct./Nov. 2011,Writers Chronicle):

"Maybe this will be big. And most of the time, it's not big. Most of the time, it goes all right. You get some nice reviews, maybe some not so nice reviews, and you sell a few copies, or not, and you move on. It's just a little blip. The purpose for your writing cannot be for that moment of publication. It has to be about writing the book itself."

It's a good, sobering reflection. It has to be about wanting to spend time alone with a particular exploration of thoughts and feelings, all channeled through a handful of characters and places dragged up from a subconscious mind. Sometimes it may be to explore past experience from other viewpoints, or to push past outcomes in different directions, or along new paths, and see what happens next. Most of the time, if we see our way through to finishing a manuscript, we can benefit by an enrichment of our conscious and subconscious being. Publication might only be a potential, added bonus.

As Lee's interviewer, Chung, noticed about a Lee character's commitment to making a huge sculpture that can never be exhibited and might not necessarily even be 'art.' For him, Chung surmises, it was all about the process:

"In some ways, (the character, Lyndon) may be advocating more of a workmanlike approach. Like it's your day job; whatever you do for a living, most people aren't working toward one big moment. It's just what you do every day."
Lee agrees, as might many other writers. A project one works on as an engineer is not usually viewed as heading toward any one big moment; it's the day job and we do the best we can at that stage in our career. In a related way, the fiction we write outside the normal day job doesn't have to be aimed at a one big moment, e.g., publication, with blockbuster sales; we do what satisfies the creative impulse best. Like Lyndon, maybe it's just engaging in the process.

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