Why I don’t want writing to be a job

I have had lots of jobs and I was good at many of them. Work did reward me, and not just financially. But the higher I got up the food chain, the less work was about being good at my job and doing my best. More and more it became about playing games. Posturing. Fighting battles. I tried hard to stay true to myself, to be real, and I hope the people who worked for me at least saw that effort, even if I didn’t always succeed. Or if I did succeed, but that hurt them in some way.  But too often I was expected to bow to the will of masters who could not/would not admit that they were at sea. and yet insisted on acting as they were Gods. I was anxious and angry a lot of the time.

Charlie Kaufman, one of my writing heroes, says craft is dangerous. He says it’s seductive because often what you’re doing is meaningless or worthless and so you distinguish yourself by being good at it.

That reminds me of what I was like at work. I struggled to be good at my job even when the odds were stacked against me. I bled myself dry for employers who mostly did not care, doing things that too often did not really matter. Government is especially soul-destroying. You put your heart and soul in and some pissant politician decides it’s no longer important and that’s it: all your hard work, canned.

I don’t want writing to become that.

But it’s hard for me to hear that craft isn’t the answer because I’ve dedicated the last  two and a half years to learning just that. And that’s on top of the years I spent in the past. I’ve even done the McKee Story Seminar Kaufman mocks in Adaptation.

Kaufman says he thinks screenwriting appeals to writers because ‘they find themselves in an environment where they’re encouraged to use their powers to explore the world, their minds and the form itself. Think about the staggering possibilities of the marriage of light, vibration and time’. That rings true to me.

What excites me most about writing is that I could do it every day for the rest of my life and still be learning. Still struggling with how to say something real and truthful that resonates with other humans. No matter whether I have success or failure in the commercial sense, no matter how many times I get it right, how many times I start again, that will be true. It’s a vast universe of endless possibility and that is what I love.

But there are two sources of tension there. One is the need to focus in order to get things completed: I can’t just endlessly play. I must shape my ideas into something comprehensible.  The other is the boring necessity to earn a living. This space I have to write full-time without (much) pressure to earn is the most amazing blessing but I know it can’t last forever. Aside from anything else, it’s unfair for someone else to slave for a wage so I don’t have to. So I need to satisfy commercial masters.

I don’t try to write ‘commercially’: it would take incredible vanity to think I know how. I do try to tell good stories, or at least ones I would want to read. All I can do is keep plugging away and get stuff finished and hope that my work resonates with enough people to help pay the bills.

One thought on “Why I don’t want writing to be a job

  1. I think ‘trying to write commercially’ is the death knell for any personal satisfaction you might get from the process. You have to write in your own way and the only work you should do is to truly discover what that way might be and to ensure you’re utilising everything possible to communicate it to others. For me, writing specifically to sell and not to tell would be a completely joyless experience.


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