In my previous blog, I touched on an aspect of writing that plagues all writers, but especially aspiring writers—writing isn’t actual work. It’s a real barrier we have to overcome if we want to make an actual career out of writing, and even if we simply want to be casual writers.
The argument goes something like this:
- Art is fun
- Work is not fun
- Writing is an art
- Therefore, writing is not work
Writing is work. Period. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently. It’s work just like any other—it’s fun, it’s frustrating, and it’ll make you feel alive even while killing you inside.
But why does a large portion of society feel as that writing isn’t true work? All people are competitive by nature. Some more so than others. We all know that one person who has not only done whatever you have, they did it better. You have an interesting story? They have an interestinger story. You worked from sun up to sun down? They worked from sun up to sun up. We also know those people who are adamant about not being competitive. They’re so uncompetitive that they unknowingly make a competition for being so uncompetitive. But, no matter what anyone says, we are all competitive, and it is that competition that drives many people to view writing as non-work.
For the person who turns wrenches, digs ditches, or tills the land, getting dirty and physically exhausted defines what work is. When they see someone at a desk all day they think, “Now that’s the easy life. Sitting in the AC all day, while I’m breaking my back out here.”
For the person who sits in an office all day, typing memos, filing reports, and crunching numbers, work is synonymous with mental exhaustion. When they see someone willing the fields they think, “Now that’s the easy life. Working outside, getting some exercise, while I’m stuck behind a desk all day getting fat.”
This aspect of societal competition was most prevalent to me when I was in the Army. We called it the “suck factor”. Everyone wanted to brag about having it the roughest. Somehow the higher the suck factor, the more respect you earned, and the less the suck factor the more shame you earned. The disparity is even further exacerbated among veterans as some feel as though they aren’t worthy to hold the title of veteran because they didn’t go to war.
The truth of the matter is—work is work, whether you’re turning wrenches or typing reports. Soldiers are necessary for the security of our nation, firefighters help keep us safe, meter maids help ensure everyone gets a turn to park, farmers grow our food, truckers deliver it, cashiers ensure proper trade for goods, factory workers build the cars that get us from A–B, doctors help us to be healthy, teachers educate, but most important of all, coffee growers give us LIFE! All work is important, and each job is essential for a prosperous society. Is the doctor more important than the garbage person? What would happen to society if we lost both? How about police, firefighters, teachers, writers? We’re all important…our competitive nature simply makes us want to be more important.
Some work is physically less demanding than others, and some work is mentally less demanding. Some work is fun, and some sucks, but those are both subjective terms. I love writing. It makes me happy to hear the clicks of my keyboard as my fingers run frantically to keep up with my mind. I can sit behind my laptop/computer all day and night, chugging vats of coffee while I imagine exciting new ways to torture my characters. Many people swoon at the idea of writing a novel, or sitting in front of a computer all day. My dad wonders at how I can write a 150k story, even as he constructs miniature lighthouses and amazing mobiles. My mother amazes at my father’s work, even as she paints a masterful seascape, or sews complex clothing patterns. I am astonished by both of them and wish I had a tenth of their talent. They make it look so easy!
Why do people perceive writing as non-work? There are two major factors at play: 1) people confuse ‘writing’ (the ability to put words to paper) with writing well, 2) writers make writing look easy, and nothing that seems easy is actual work. Work is meant to be difficult. That’s why it’s called work. My mom paints so effortlessly that when she says, “This took a lot of work”, I think, “No it didn’t…you just whipped that out. It would have taken me months to do what you did in a week!” But the ease with which we perform a task/skill does not reflect the difficulty of work, rather it reflects the amount of work the person has dedicated to their trade/craft.
So, when someone scoffs at your response, “I write”, just remember—ignorance is bliss.