Friday, November 5, 2010

A Writer's Work

This is going to be short, because I'm leaving for a four day trip in about 30 minutes, and won't be able to blog again before Tuesday.

But, I've been reading a wonderful book by Donald Hall, author of The Oxcart Man, about the nature of work for an author--or a painter, or a musician; for an artist of any field. The name of the book is Life's Work, and he makes a distinction between chores (those things that need to get done and don't require thought), labor (often one's paying job), and work. He makes the case that work (for an artist, anyway) is that which engrosses one's complete attention and focus, that which one feels called to do and cannot not do. It's a beautiful book, and I haven't finished it yet. It's a memoir, of sorts, a memoir about his life's work.

I love that concept of work. We writers often feel hard to justify what we are doing, really, at the computer for long hours. It doesn't look like work to others. And it certainly isn't a chore to us. We do it often without pay. We wouldn't think of not doing it. We're thinking about it, even when we aren't at the computer or the notebook. We are always at work on a WIP, one way or another.

So, now, when someone asks, "What do you do?", I can answer, "I work."

What about you? Are you "at work" on your WIP even away from your tools of trade?


Meagan Spooner said...

This is definitely something that always catches me. It's hard to tell people I work as a writer because so far, I'm unpaid for it. Our society has so much focus on salary that people often don't accept that you're a writer until you've been paid for that task. This offers a different way of looking at it, and I LOVE that. Thank you for posting about this!

Jayne said...

Good point. Yes, plotting and wishing and giggling and writing and ah-har!-ing and scribbling and deleting... it is all work (and we love it, right?!)

Hope you had a nice time away.


I love this distinction between chores, labor, and work. It's a very nuanced way of thinking, and a nice reminder of the power of connotations. Thanks for sharing that. Hope you had a good trip.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Meagan, Jayne, and Sam, Thanks for the good wishes. I'm glad Hall's interpretation of "work" resonated with you all. After a wonderful four days with old friends (this is our annual get-together), I came back refreshed, and (true to Hall's vision) eager to get back to two re-writes.