An Irrational Enterprise

Last Sunday’s New York Times has a great article by David Gessner about writing and teaching and survival as a writer in the academy.  Read the entire article here.  Gessner writes eloquently about the sense of captivity that some writers may feel, compelled as they are to work for a steady paycheck but losing valuable writing (and reading) time in the process.  Not to mention being stuck having to read endless essays by naive but earnest students.  He offers the example of prize-winning author, Wallace Stegner, as a kind of a balm:  yes, you can do both and do both well, even if your heart isn’t in teaching.  Stegner, apparently, embraced his retirement from teaching as the time to open the floodgates of his creativity.  On the flip side, some of Gessner’s follow writers/teachers admit that they need the structure of teaching (or any day job probably) to keep from having too much time:  

“I have two writer friends, successful novelists who could afford not to teach, who insist that rather than detract from their writing, their lives as professors are what allow them to write, and that given more free time, they would crumble.  The job provides a safety net above the abyss of facing the difficulty of creating every day, making an irrational thing feel more ration.” 

That resonates with me.  I have a day job, a rather mentally consuming day job (not teaching), that forces me to structure my time, to keep a schedule, so that I have to write only when I can grab the time.  I don’t have my days yawning before me, empty of everything but writing.  That would scare me as much it would scare Gessner’s friends.  I would have to at least do some laundry, something rational.  Because as Gessner notes, “the creation of literature requires a degree of monomania, and that it is, at least in part, an irrational enterprise.”  

For me, then, the “balance” is not so much balancing my job with my writing as much as balancing the rational with the irrational.  For someone from a working-class background (and an area of chronic low employment), this makes a lot of sense.


Well, I wasted no time in trying out this Firefox add-on recommended by BJ Keltz.  Very easy to install and set-up.  Apparently, I can post entries to other blogs I might have, and Scribefire also provides a list of my entries and categories.  I can tag, too, and have my post bookmarked for  So far, I am happy.

Writing and Journaling

I came across a neat WordPress & writing sister this morning:  BJ Keltz at Write Your Mind Journals. In full disclosure, BJ has me on her blogroll.  I’ve gotten a couple of hits from that, so I thought I should check her out (and return the favor).  BJ blogs about her business (selling writing journals) and writing.  Her blog is visually appealing, and her entries about journaling will strike a chord in any writer who sees writing as a tool as well as an art.  I highly recommend that you click on the tab “Tools of the Trade.”  BJ reviews a number of Firefox add-ons that she uses for writing.  I am definitely going to check them out — if I can ever get Firefox 3.0 to stay installed on my Mac OS.  

To the right of her blog, you’ll find a link to her store.  I have not (yet) purchased anything from BJ, but I am sorely tempted.  I’m a bit of a journal collector, and I love browsing through journals when I’m at a bookstore (or any store, even Target sells journals!).  But I promised myself I wouldn’t buy any more journals until I had filled all the ones I have now … but you know what they say about promises 🙂

Writer’s Reality Check

JA Konrath, author of the Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels thriller series, has a great blog at  A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.  In particular, check out his “Brain Check” post.  JA provides a list of instructions for writers trying to persevere in this information-laden and book-heavy age:

1.  Study the situation.

2.  Set attainable goals.

3.  Learn from both failure and success.

4.  Don’t compare yourself to other writers.

5. Value yourself.

6.  Bust your ass.

7.  Forgive.

8.  Dream.

Read JA’s full post for his elaborations on each item.  I struggle the most with items 4 and 5.  I’m always comparing myself to other writers.  That can be OK if I’m thinking, “gee, I can write as well as that,” but most of the time I’m thinking, “gee, I wish I had her gift for plot” or “gee, I wish I had his talent for humor.”  The thing is I love to read and the second best way to learn about writing is to read (the first is, of course, to write), so not comparing myself to other writers is an ongoing struggle.  

I definitely don’t value my writing as much as I should.  I’ve received enough encouragement from other writers to keep going, but I need to learn to be my own encouragement.  At the end of the day, I have to value what I do.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t raised to value my writing, so it is, yet another, ongoing struggle.  

And what keeps me from busting my ass is my perpetual self-criticism and doubt.  Hmmm … enough excuses already, don’t you think?

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