Becoming the Living Poet

Archive for the ‘Being A Writer’ Category

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

– An Excerpt of the The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is probably my favorite poem of all time, which is odd because T.S. Elliot is far from my favorite poet. I love the sense of attendant anxiety surrounding everyday actions. Eating peaches, drinking tea, talking of Michelangelo; these are the minutia that make up our daily lives. There is joy in that and yet there is also terror because these are the existential objects we are using to fill up the well of life and when the well is full we will no longer be able to draw from it. Whether that ceasing is merely a transition to another plane of existence or a permanent deletion from the fabric of reality is an open question, but the answer hardly matters to the anxiety being spoken of in the poem.

There is a great deal happening in the next few weeks and I am trying to remind myself that there will be time.

My time in Denmark is coming to an end and it is a bittersweet transition. There is a great deal waiting for me in San Francisco. New poems, new friends, new professors. I can’t wait to start the MFA program and get to know what has always been my favorite city from the perspective of a local. The sadness comes in with the not so negligible detail that my partner will be remaining in Denmark for another year in order to finish a master’s program there. The simple fact of my partner’s proximity has been such a luxury these past two months. We lived together for three years prior to transitioning into a long distance relationship a year ago and like most things that are wonderful, but constant I took the time for granted. When my partner joins me in San Francisco at the end of this year I shall probably take it for granted again but for now every kiss, every hug, every meal shared together feels like a precious gift and one that is about to be wrended from my grasp in a few days time. It already hurts and it hasn’t even happened yet and the pain just keeps getting bigger and bigger and closer and closer. Ah well, to quote Ani Di Franco’s words in the song, ‘Buildings and Bridges: we are made to bleed and scab and heal and bleed again.

There is a great deal of joy to counter the sadness. No sooner had I begun pondering the question of how to better connect with other writers, when I was invited to begin contributing to a newly forming blog collective called, The MFA Chronicles. The MFA Chronicles is a group of first year creative writing MFAers blogging about the joys and terrors of being a creative writing graduate student. The blog collective was masterminded by Jonterri Gadson, an MFA poet attending the University of Virginia. As far as I know Jonterri who twitters as @JaytotheTee is still looking for new contributors so if you’re a first year MFA student who wants to participate be sure to drop her a line.

In my last post, Ch-Ch-Changes I asked some questions to try and get at ways that this blog could become a more effective resource for other poets. These were the questions:

Any of you have any ideas on how this blog might help poets become better poets?

What kinds of online resources are useful to poets and other creative types?

What are your favorite poetry-related websites? What kind of poetry websites do you wish existed that don’t seem to?

These are ongoing questions so if you missed the last post and have anything to say about them don’t be shy, but I was really impressed by the caliber of the answers I got in the comments. Here were some of the amazingly awesome suggestions:

-Demystifying the process of poetry in some way.

I initially took this to mean the process of submitting poetry for publication, but it could really be any aspect of poetry whether it be gathering inspiration, line breaks, type-setting, editing. There’s a ton about the process of poetry creation that often goes unsaid and we should talk about those mysteries. We can be like a magician’s convention sharing the how to’s of magic tricks. (Just realized I stole the magic trick analogy from @JaytotheTee who tweeted it just the other day, but it was such an apt one.) I like the idea of making the process of writing poetry more mindful and less mystical because when it becomes this almost spiritual, unearthly happening brought on by muses it becomes very passive. Poets who fall into that mindset then start to do things like wait for inspiration to write, when as Jack London said, You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

-Posting interviews with up and coming poets, particularly poets releasing their first book.

The more I think about this idea which involves me actually having something to say to other poets at readings other than the awkward, “so um… that one line in the first poem you read was really good… I like crustaceans too”, the more I think that interviewing up and coming poets for the blog is a fabulous idea. It gives me an excuse to have conversations with other poets that I’d want to be having anyway and it gives me a vehicle to deliver to you some clues to the most burning of all poetry question conflagrations: how do you get a poetry book published?

-Another person thought that documenting my experiences as an MFA poet would be an enjoyable read for other poets.

I worry about making this blog all about the MFA experience. Obviously the MFA experience is going to be very central to my perspectives about poetry for the next few years because I’m going to be a full-time graduate student, but I want to emphasize that I don’t believe that every poet has to get an MFA or that MFA poets are necessarily superior to non-MFA poets. Getting an MFA improves your writing when it provides you with a solid writing community, but a really good writing group and a disciplined writing practice could do the same thing. I chose to pursue the MFA route because I really like teaching poetry. I think reading and writing poetry enriches people’s lives and I want as many people as possible to start doing it, and more to the point I want to have an active role in encouraging people to read and write more poetry, thus having a piece of paper that certifies me as a poetry expert is going to be useful for me professionally. If you just want to write poetry and maybe get it published an MFA might help or it might not. I want to emphasize that when I’m talking to poets I’m not just talking to MFA poets or poets who have been published, I’m talking to everyone who has a passion for poetry and who wants to improve their craft and get their work circulating in the larger reading world.

I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post because it really got me thinking about how poets can help each other and the age old question ‘what do poets want? – a question I’ve been trying to answer since my days as poetry club president in high school and college.

It’s been so lovely talking to you that it pains me to tell you that these lovely conversations will have to be put on hold for the next two, possibly three weeks while I complete my move in San Francisco.

Until I find and move into a San Francisco apartment I’ll be on a near complete internet blackout. Feel free to still leave them if you wish, but comments will go unapproved and unanswered and tweets will go unreplied starting the morning of August 5th and continuing until further notice.

Wish me luck settling into San Francisco. We will speak again soon, hopefully in a better time and a better place.

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Some modest, but nevertheless noteworthy changes have been afoot on this blog. The most obvious one is that the title has changed. Sometimes one word makes all the difference. Instead of being called “The Living Poet” this blog will now be called “Becoming the Living Poet”. After writing the post, Invisible Readers I rewrote my about page in order to shift the blog’s focus away from being my space for personal growth to a space for poet’s to work on personal growth.

Honestly, I’m not sure yet how this blog is going to help other writers, but identifying the question is always the first step towards brainstorming solutions.

Early ideas:

-Creating a ‘blog a poetry book day’ to try to put the tiniest of dents in the vacuum of good poetry reviews.
-Starting an online and perhaps in-person poetry book group. (I want to get a feel for my schedule as an MFA student first, but this idea has been nibbling at me for a few months.)
-Starting a regular submission ritual on the blog. (This one is entirely doable. I would just need to *gasp* commit to posting about it every week on the same day. I’m thinking we’d start with a very small reachable goal. Either one submission or one hour spent on working on a submission every week. If you can’t find an hour in one day you can split it up into 15 minute increments throughout the week. I’m thinking it will be ‘Submission Monday’. Unfortunately I don’t think I should start it until I get into San Francisco because in about a week I’ll be on internet blackout for two weeks and it’s no fun to start a ritual and then put it on hiatus immediately.)

Any of you have any ideas on how this blog might help poets become better poets?

What kinds of online resources are useful to poets and other creative types?

What are your favorite poetry-related websites? What kind of poetry websites do you wish existed that don’t seem to?

Leave your answers in the comments.
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I wanted to add some new people to the blog roll who have some great things to say about poetry, writing, and creativity.

Jessie Carty, a Charlotte-based poet, writer, editor, and teacher has a lovely blog called 58 Inches where she muses about poetry as well as documents her daily life. She also teaches writing, creativity, and social media classes so be sure to check if she’s teaching anything if you ever find yourself in the ‘Tar Heel State’. (And if you have any notion why it’s called the Tar Heel State please let me know.)

Mildly Creative is a blog created by mildly creative individual Ken Roberts who has devoted himself to help[ing] others take the steps, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem, towards a life of creative abundance. The focus of Mildly Creative is on authenticity and creation over perfection. My favorite post series so far is How To Be Authentic with People Who Don’t Understand You.

Post-Apocalyptic Publishing is a blog written by Emma Newman, a novelist trying to publish her first novel. Is she any good you might ask? Well, I think she’s fabulous and I know this because she’s been podcasting her novel, Twenty Years Later chapter by chapter. Twenty Years Later is a young adult novel that takes place in post-apocalyptic London. (And don’t scrunch your nose at it being young adult, it has the same kind of all ages appeal that many of Neil Gaiman’s young adult novels have.)

And I wanted to draw your attention to a blog that is already on my blogroll, Soul Sleuthing where you’ll find the wonderful post series: Gumshoe’s Guide to Getting Off the Couch still in progress.

That’s all for now. Hope you share your opinion on what makes a good online poet’s/writer’s resource. Until next post!

Right now on my about page there are two underlined sections. There is the sentence fragment: you’ve definitely come to the wrong place near the top of the page. The fragment is at the end of the following sentence:

If you’re looking for sage advice from a famous poet who’s published a small library and won a host of prestigious awards then you’ve definitely come to the wrong place!

At the bottom of the page is this sentence:

I’m writing this blog for myself to an imaginary reader. If you exist, you can read along if you like…

Last week, immediately after identifying some literary magazines I’d like to submit to I threw myself headlong into another project which I didn’t write about here because I was, quite frankly, not sure if I was going to do it or not.

If you’re curious I haven’t yet submitted to the two lit mags I said I would submit to. I will check in with you next week about my progress. Sometimes I suspect that many of the projects I complete I do so in an attempt to put off other projects I’m avoiding, but that’s a musing for another time.

You know the thing I was working on, that I didn’t tell you about?

Well, I did it.

I entered the Art of Nonconformity’s Unconventional Writing Contest.

I don’t want to speculate about whether or not I’m going to win. Let time tell that. Either way you’ll get to read the entry. If I win I’ll post a link to the article, if I lose I’ll post the whole article.

I do want to talk about what I learned about how I feel about this blog after entering the contest.

I learned that, shock of shocks, despite the almost militant declarations on my about page that I don’t care if anyone is reading or what readers think, I want people to come to my blog and read what I’ve written. I want people to leave comments. I want people to retweet my links.

If I didn’t want that I wouldn’t have entered the contest.

And yet after I sent in the entry, after the initial blush of excitement over the article had faded, a little voice in my head let out a trembling whisper:

If you win this contest, you’ll lose all that’s left of your invisibility. They’ll be nowhere to hide. This blog won’t be safe anymore. It will be filled with readers!

I think it was two fears that initially caused me to latch-on to the concept of invisible readers:

1. That no on would read my blog and I’d feel embarrassed and blocked talking to myself.

2. That people would read my blog and find it simultaneously too academic and too emo. In short that people would read my blog and hate it.

The concept of ‘invisible readers’ was a wonderful safety net because it served as a reminder that even if no one showed up or everyone hated what I had written, the audience in my mind was more important than any living hostile audience.

I am grateful to my invisible readers because they gave me a comfort zone in which to start this blog and continue for as long as I have.

But gratitude aside it’s time to let the invisible readers go.

Why?

Because I have real readers now and I don’t feel that I can honor and connect with them properly if I keep referring to them as invisible readers.

I also don’t think it’s healthy to assume that all real readers will be hostile and bored.

It’s time to stand up and say I’m a nonconformist and an academic and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m ok with other people thinking I’m too weird and too serious.

I’ve been doing a pretty good job of being my rambly, over-analytical, insecure self in this space and it’s felt good.

It’s time to acknowledge that this might not be an empty room and that’s ok.

Or this might be a party that no one shows up to and that’s ok.

I think the most important thing I can do both for myself and this blog right now is to stop trying to rigidly control what it’s for.

While I was thinking about and working on this post I reread several of Havi’s Blogging Therapy posts, the series that pretty much got me here. (The two above links are from that series.)

Something she says in the Why Even Bother When Other People Are Doing It Better? post always comforts me:

You can’t see how useful it is for other people to know that stuff is hard for you too or that you’re also going through things that they experience.

But the rest of us know. We, your “right people”, can see it. And we need you.

So I’m going to make two very small changes to this site:

1. I’m going to change the about page to be more welcoming to potential readers.

2. I’m going to try to be brave enough to acknowledge the possibility of a real living audience when I write.

Maybe I’ll even leave questions for people to comment on from time to time. I’ve been terrified of doing that for fear that no one would comment and I would feel alone and vulnerable, but I think in the last three months of blogging I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can give myself the validation that I need without being defensive about it.

I don’t need to announce every few lines that I don’t care if anyone comments or not to know that I’ll be ok if no one comments. I’ll be ecstatic if they do comment, but I’m no longer afraid that it will wound me if they don’t.

I realize writing this post won’t be a magic spell that generates traffic and commenters, but I want to acknowledge aloud that readers are welcome, commenters are welcome, and that I would be open to this site someday becoming a community.

In the next couple of weeks I’m going to start thinking about who this blog’s ‘right people’ are and share that information with you when I’ve fleshed out some ideas.

My resolution: I will strive to not be so dominated by my fear of being harmed by false hopes that I risk killing the true ones.

You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith. -Mary Manin Morrissey

In the last month I stumbled upon two books that most writers would probably get a lot out of: Writing A Woman’s Life by Carolyn Heilbrun and How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Bottom.

Writing A Woman’s Life is a brief (a little over a hundred pages) history of how women authors have been depicted in biographies. More specifically, it asserts that a lot of patriarchal assumptions have crept into how female writer’s lives have been depicted by biographers. Marrying or failing to marry has been over-emphasized and the quest for literary greatness or artistic self-actualization has been minimized in a way that has not been seen in biographies written about male writers.

How Proust Can Change Your Life is a combination literary criticism and self help book. I haven’t come across a book as eruditely hilarious since reading Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Guide To Punctuation by Lynne Truss. Marcel Proust is the author of In Search of Lost Time, a seven part novel which is for France, as far as I can tell, what War and Peace is for Russia. I’ve never read Proust myself (I might after reading him summarized), but previous knowledge of Proust is definitely not a prerequisite to enjoying this book.

One theme running through both books is how reading effects people and why books are important.

On this topic Helibrun tells us:

What matters is that lives do not serve as models; only stories do that. And it is a hard thing to make up stories to live by. We can only retell and live by the stories we have read or heard. We live our lives through texts. They may be read, or chanted, or experienced electronically, or come to us, like the murmurings of our mothers, telling us what conventions demand. Whatever their form or medium, these stories have formed us all; they are what we must use to make new fictions, new narratives.

The above Heilbrun quote really inspired me so I did a bit of free writing about it. Here is what I wrote:

The parameters within which you define what is and what is not possible to do, or be, or see in your lifetime are not neutral or impersonal. How one defines one’s own limitations has a lot to do with one’s environment and the influences one has been exposed to. This is why reading is so dangerous, not because we become what we read, but because we can choose to become anything we can imagine and reading expands that threshold. Reading changes us because it delivers a silent invitation for personal transformation. It reminds us of the possibility of new beginnings and alternate endings.

Alain de Bottom provides the following Proust quotation (presumably translated by himself) on the value of books:

In reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without the book, he would perhaps never have experienced in himself! And the recognition by the reader in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its veracity.

He also quotes Proust on the topic of the limitations of reading:

It is one of the great and wonderful characteristics of good books (which allows us to see the role, at once essential, yet limited, that reading may play in our spiritual lives) that for the author they may be called ‘Conclusions’ but for the reader ‘Incitements’. We feel very strongly that our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off, and we would like him to provide us with answers when all he is able to do is provide us with desires… That is the value of reading, and also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.

Proust’s first quote seems to be saying the opposite of what Heilbrun’s is saying. While Heilbrun asserts that stories have formed us, Proust tells us that stories are but a tool by which we see ourselves more clearly.

Is it possible that when a book triggers a deeper level of introspection that in turn paves the way for the formation of a new model of living?

The unique way a novel draws you into the mind of a character, allowing you to experience their thoughts viscerally as if they were your own, can open you up to insights you simply wouldn’t get to in your daily life. At the same time those insights tend not to leave a lasting impression unless they are in some way extensions of thoughts that have already occurred to you, but never so eloquently or so wittily or in such an extreme fashion.

So books can expand the depth and breadth of a person’s thinking, but only if they start from a place that feels familiar and take us somewhere new from there.

So perhaps we care about characters in books because we recognize them as ourselves in the Proustian sense, but the process doesn’t stop there. We are then driven to create new fictions, new narratives in our own lives because the book allows us to meet a version of ourselves we’ve never met before and would like to carry with us after we leave the book on the shelf.

I think Proust’s description of a book as an ‘Incitement’ is dead on. The words written in our favorite books drive us towards new words and new thoughts.

I think Heilbrun is correct that we live our lives through texts, but it is not the texts of a single influential book or even an entire canon. The texts in which we live are the texts that play through our minds on a daily basis, the internal words we choose to narrate our actions that steer our lives in this direction or that.

Even if some of us never commit our stories to paper, we are, each of us, moment to moment writers of our own lives, choosing our dialogue according to the motivations we believe most realistically portray the character we have chosen to become.

Alligator Wrestling by Dean Mullin

Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators. – Olin Miller

Today I signed up for Naomi Dunford’s Free Marketing for Writers and Wordsmiths E-Course. Even if you’re not a writer you might want to follow that link because Naomi has turned her website, Ittybiz into a smorgasbord of free e-courses of late. You’ll find marketing for consultants, techies, designers, bloggers, and my personal favorite – Touchy Feely Airy Fairy Woo Woo Service Providers – many of whom I am following on twitter right now and loving every minute of it.

I’ve already received Naomi’s first email and so far it looks promising. It talks about identifying a target audience to whom you are going to sell your writing. About this illusive target audience Naomi writes:

We slave away with grammar books and style guides, honing our writing skills into something with poise and spice and eloquence, and hope that they will figure out that we can change their world with the sheer force of our prose. Before we starve, preferably.

I’m in such a weird space career-wise right now. I’m leaving my life as a web content writer and SEO analyst to go and be a poet, and am really starting to wonder if I’m not being too all or nothing about this. I’m happy I’m going to graduate school because it’s going to give me a ton of time to write as well as internship opportunities and a shift in perspective, but I’m wondering if this whole academia or bust attitude is going to work in the long haul.

Lately, as the blind panic has started to give way to reasoned contemplation of what I want the future to look like, it occurred to me that a lot of my fear has to do with what life will be like three years from now when I get out of graduate school. In some ways I’ve already resigned myself to failure, and that’s a shame.

I’ve spent so much time over the last two months thinking about worst case scenarios and whether the decision to be a poet was worth facing them, that I haven’t spent much time envisioning the life I want and charting the steps I’m going to take to get there. I figured out that I wanted to go to graduate school because I wanted to learn how to teach poetry and have a degree that said I had learned as much, but beyond that….

I’m already pretty darn certain that I’m not going to be able to just be a poet and nothing else, but I want to find a gig that is truly compatible with the poet lifestyle. Right now I’ve got my eye on being a poet/teacher. In the past I’ve considered being a poet/editor. Now I’m wondering if maybe I would be happy being a poet/freelance writer.

When I was applying to graduate school and writing essay upon essay about my future career goals, teaching poetry at the university level seemed like a simple, concrete career goal that the admissions committees would understand and respect.

Now that I’ve actually been admitted to graduate school I realize, with a start, that we are not in personal statement land anymore.

There are three minimum requirements for becoming a university creative writing professor:

1. Get an MFA or PhD in creative writing.
2. Publish a book.
3. Be really lucky.

Right now I’m on step one. Step one will not be easy, but it will certainly be the easiest of the three tasks to complete.

In spite of the neat little numbered lists I can fabricate, my future feels very fuzzy to me right now. I know I’m on the right path, but there’s a fork up ahead and I don’t know which direction I should take.

Sometimes I wonder whether being a professor is what I really, truly want and I find myself wondering:

Am I suddenly questioning my resolve to be a professor because I’m afraid of how distant step two feels from where I am as a poet right now or am I genuinely questioning my path?

The thing that I find most comforting about the three step path is that it can lead many different places.

I chose the MFA program I chose because its focus is on, not just the craft of writing, but also the business of writing. Right now I am very interested in both becoming a better poet and learning to be a writer in the world who eats and pays rent, and the program doesn’t see those two goals as being inconsistent or mutually exclusive. I know I’m going to learn a lot from my MFA program and I’m finally in a place where I’m ready to both seek out and receive the resources I need to become a better poet, and a more professional writer in general.

The step after the MFA, the process of trying to publish a book, is going to require me to face almost every self-doubt and self-sabotage demon I have living in the bungalow that is my mind. It’s going to take everything I’ve got, but if I’m willing to work on myself as a writer to become the person who can not only produce words, but also edit and promote them, I’ll get there. To be fair, to some degree I’ve already learned a thing or two about self-promoting from being a web writer, but at this time I have no idea how I’m supposed to apply what I’ve learned to poetry.

So once I have completed the first two steps required for becoming a poet/professor, I’ll probably have the confidence and organization to be a freelancer, and I’ll probably have a good start on having the professional contacts required to be an editor.

I just hope I make it that far. Before I starve, preferably.

Today (May 15th) is the second annual Writers Worth Day.

Writers Worth Day Banner

Writers Worth Day was started by Lori Widmer, a Pennsylvania-based professional writer who blogs at Words on the Page.

Here’s a quote from the Writers Worth Day press release:

Writers Worth Day was established in response to the increasing amount of job postings that offer little, if any, compensation for the amount of work expected. More beginning freelancers accept abominable rates. The message of Writers Worth Day is that every writer has marketable skills, and those skills should be compensated fairly and within industry-acceptable standards.

Reading this description makes me wonder why this holiday isn’t being supported by the National Writers Union since it seems like this would be something right up their ally.

From the National Writers Union about page:

Let’s face it: there’s more to being a professional writer than just writing well. Talent and experience won’t protect you from inept or unscrupulous employers, those who misuse your work, demand rights that are yours, underpay, pay late or won’t pay at all.

I am currently working as an search engine optimization analyst and online content writer (yes, I know this website isn’t SEO-optimized, that’s a conscious choice) and am not currently a member of any union. I thought about joining the union, but I think I was afraid that if I had to always demand industry standard pay for the work I do, it would be harder to find employment.

I felt this way, not just because I feared that other writers would be willing to do what I do for less, but rather because I wasn’t sure what the value of my work really was. I looked up the industry standard pay, recognized that I was being paid less, but the idea that I shouldn’t settle for less didn’t resonate with me. Looking back on a resume highlighted by positive performance reviews, I’m still questioning my worth as a professional writer; and reading over my MFA acceptance letter I’m still questioning my worth as a poet.

Thinking about my conversations with other writers, I don’t think this is merely a destuckification issue because every writer I know has the same stuck.

I think it’s more about how writers become writers and the assumptions that writers make about what being a writer means.

I have yet to meet a writer – professional, creative, freelance, or any other kind – who became a writer because one morning they realized that they needed to learn a trade so that they could have a lucrative career. I have yet to hear a newspaper columnist explain that they were really worried about how they were going to pay for retirement so they decided to go get a journalism degree.

It’s possible I know too many idealistic, artsy types for the people I know to make a good representative sample of the general population. It seems to me I may have heard some stories about people who write novels as a way to get rich quick. Those sorts of people may exist, but I think they’re the exception rather than the rule.

In my experience (however limited) most writers become writers because they genuinely enjoy writing or it becomes clear to them that they’re pretty good at this whole arranging words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs thing. Often they make both of these realizations at around the same time or one discovery feeds the other, i.e. a person who loves writing practices a lot and becomes really good at it or a person who is naturally skilled with language finds they like the high of using a skill that comes easily to them.

Usually one discovers that one is a writer long before one makes the perhaps even more startling discovery that being a writer might actually have some sort of economic value.

When you actually get paid for doing something you love to do, you feel like you’re getting away with something, like you’re somehow tricking your employer. Work is supposed to be unpleasant; that’s why it’s called work. In this state of affairs pay is compensation for the suffering your job causes you rather than any value you are giving to your employer for performing the task you are performing.

I’m now going to insert a short anecdote, unbidden and without warning:

A month ago I met a psychologist who worked at a facility where people were receiving treatment for things like pedophilia and spousal abuse in lieu of or in addition to prison time. I always thought that people who performed jobs like these must be saints with an acute sense of civic duty because it was a job that no one could possibly enjoy. I was wrong. This woman loved her job. She loved working with these people and minutely examining the workings of a pathological mind. It didn’t unnerve her in the slightest. She also got paid good money for doing the thing she was most suited to do.

The reason I mention the existence of this woman is because meeting her jolted me. It made me realize that I had been assuming that hating your job was the norm and that my headlong quest for job satisfaction was the last Never Never Land fantasy holdout I had left from my childhood. I had been assuming I would fail in my search for a job that truly fit me. I had been carrying a despairing, desperate certainty that the possibility of finding a job that simultaneously paid the bills and kept me from daydreaming about something better was a pipe dream. I had been quietly fearing that looking for this castle in the sky was just a fun game of make believe I liked to play with myself.

The reason writers take less pay than they are worth is that they themselves don’t believe that loving your job and being paid a living wage for doing it are simultaneously possible.

Well, I was wrong and so is every writer working for less than they’re worth.

Job satisfaction is not a myth.

People in other “more lucrative” fields are finding it all the time. Not everyone, the world still has a surfeit of suffering, and most of it is completely meaningless and preventable, but the happy people of the world are not a negligible anomaly. The happy people in other professions just aren’t writing novels about how much pleasure their work gives them. Why would they? They’re not writers.

Just because you would still be writing even if you weren’t being paid for it, doesn’t make writing any less of a job. You’re providing a valuable service, and writers deserve to eat and pay rent just like everyone else.

The enjoyment factor isn’t the only reason that writers aren’t paid well for their trade; it’s also a matter of public perception. There’s also the fact that deep down employers think that everyone can write well. They feel that the only reason they need to hire you is because they don’t have the time to do what you do, not because they couldn’t do it themselves.

But any professional writer who has worked with even a handful of clients knows the secret: not everyone can write well.

So I hope that someday some hapless English major, fresh out of college, trying to figure out how to make a living doing ‘this writing thing,’ happens upon this blog entry or one of the posts on other blogs that are devoting posts to this holiday. I hope that person, who I do not envy in the slightest, is inspired to reflect upon how rare the ability to write coherently and compellingly really is and how much value it brings to the business of the employer who is paying a writer to ply their trade.

Long live Writers Worth Day! I hope there’s a third, 25th, and centennial celebration of the holiday!
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I heard about Writers Worth Day from a link posted on a blog I follow called Practicing Writing.

I think I’m going to go ahead and add Practicing Writing to my blogroll.

(I may end up adding Words on the Page, but I like to follow a blog for at least a few weeks before I put it in the blogroll. If I get popular enough to start getting link exchange requests I may post this policy on the about page.)

Practicing Writing is written by Erika Dreifus, a New York writer who has a list of publishing credentials a mile wide published many short stories, essays, book reviews, and is now trying her hand at poetry.

In her blog she posts links to contests and writing jobs, as well as her insights on the writing industry, and updates on her recent projects.

I didn’t add her to the blogroll previously because reading her blog often makes me feel like I “should” be farther along in my career, and I want this blog to be a safe space for me to grow as a writer in a veritable “should” vacuum.

As a total non-sequitur this reminds me of something very quotable that was said by a neat person recently:

I don’t recommend it [writing in a vacuum] anyway. They’re very small and dark, and often terribly dusty.

One aspect of my comfort zone that I really want to grow is to be able to learn from people who impress me rather than cower in the face of their superior awesomeness.

A friend I was talking to about this the other night pointed out that I am awesome too. (I have very kind and wonderful friends because I am marvelously lucky.) I want to be able to believe this, and I’m working on improving my self esteem, but even if I someday grow to think I’m the cat’s meow, I would never want to become so deluded as to think I’m the best there ever was at anything. There will always be someone better and it’s important to me that I learn to view these people as sources of inspiration and not as adversaries.

This can be especially difficult with fellow writers because some part of me feels like we are in competition, not necessarily for material rewards, more like for the right to exist. I feel like I need to have a certain minimum skill level as a writer for writing to make sense as a career choice, and that every person I meet who is a more skilled or more successful writer than I am calls into question whether or not I meet the minimal requirements.

But there really is room for all of us in this world…. or so I keep telling myself.

In theory I’m finishing that scholarship essay tonight, but I’m doing my usual habit of writing past the maximum word count without having answered the whole prompt.

I wrote an intro paragraph which isn’t going to work for the essay, but sounds a lot like the beginning of my favorite short story, How to Become a Writer by Lorrie Moore. If you haven’t read it you simply must.

The link with the story transcript has typos which are errors made by the typist, not by Lorrie Moore (perish the thought). If you want to read the immaculately perfect version of the story you should buy Moore’s short story collection, Self Help. You should probably buy it anyway because pretty much all of the other stories in the same collection are nearly as, if not equally brilliant.

Here’s my unintentional tribute to Lorrie Moore. The poet’s version of How to Become a Writer:

In the beginning no one chooses to be a poet. Poetry chooses you and you start writing poetry. If you start young enough, initially at least, your teachers will praise you for it and ask you to read your poems in front of the class. The class will politely clap and you will feel good about this because it means that you now have a talent. You’ll smile and blush. Then the school day will end and you’ll go off by yourself to write more poems. At first your mother will be proud of your poems. Maybe she’ll even put a few on the refrigerator because she’ll think that the fact that you write poems means that you’re smart. But eventually she’ll start to think that spending hours alone in the park writing poems is a little strange and the pride will gradually be replaced by concern. She’ll express this concern in pointed questions about why you don’t have more friends. If you’re very lucky this whole poetry thing will turn out to be a phase. It will usually fade at the onslaught of puberty, and certainly by the time you’re ready to go away to college you’ll have forgotten this silly poetry habit. If you haven’t forgotten, then that’s when the trouble will start.