Writing is a career, right? That’s what people often say. Sitting down at a computer to force out a series of words/a bunch of sentences/a collection of paragraphs/a succession of chapters/an entire novel is pretty much the same as going into an office, or any other work site, and doing whatever your job is supposed to be.
To some degree, that’s right. Any serious writer definitely needs to view the time they spend writing as equivalent to any other substantive money-making activity, rather than some sort of frivolous, spare time activity. How else are you going to be able to make yourself into a success?
But as far as I can tell, writing is more than just another profession. I don’t think I could ever view it as merely another way to make money and forge a career. The best way I can explain this difference is by providing an example. As a professional working in my day job (which involves technology and education, if anyone is interested) my work is often criticised. My managers and supervisors, and even my workplace colleagues, regularly find errors or inconsistencies, or inform me of how I can do better. That’s ok. It’s how it should be. It’s important in a workplace to be able to receive and respond to feedback.
And I don’t take it personally. I know the motivation behind the feedback and as for myself I’m keen to do the best job I can. It doesn’t cause me any personal hurt (apart from a number of times when the criticism I received was needlessly unpleasant and personal – but that’s a whole other story).
When we start talking about my writing, things are very different. It’s hard not to take criticisms at a much more personal level. Any bad review hurts on a kind of visceral level. Why should that be? After all, isn’t writing just another professional activity, so any criticism should be able to be taken at an impersonal level.
The thing is, writing isn’t just another professional activity. There’s nothing impersonal about it. The stories I produce are deeply personal. Even when they seem to be quite lightweight and silly, I’m still inserting a large part of myself into every word I write. That’s why, when those stories get criticised, I can’t help but take it personally. I am a part of all of my stories, so any criticism of those stories is, at a very personal level, criticism of me.
I know that many writers are able to overcome this and keep their writing at an impersonal level that inures them from taking offence. I’m not like that and I’m not sure I ever will be. It’s part of what makes writing so appealing to me. It’s like I’m having a conversation with my soul, and the results are documented for all to see. If the downside to this approach is the occasional hit to my gut when a story falls into the hands of the wrong reader, it’s a risk I’m more than prepared to take.
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