Why We Love the Books We Love

Love-in-a-mist flower with raindropsThis weekend, I had the displeasure of dealing with a minor flood in my basement. No lasting damage was done, except to the tall bookshelf that used to house my collection of books. Checking dozens of books for water damage and drying out the damp ones is not exactly my idea of a party. Nonetheless, it gave me a chance to think about how I came by these volumes and why I still keep them around.

Like anybody who’s gone to college for the liberal arts, I have a collection of books that I studied for classes. Some of them are laborious volumes of criticism and theory, and others are amusing novels that don’t take a day or two to read. What they all have in common is the level of scrutiny I have given them. I have analyzed and discussed their contents on an academic level, and I have a good understanding of where they fit in with their genre and their time period.

Other books in my little library are familiar in different ways.  There are encyclopedias of magical creatures, of fairy tales, of gods and goddesses from ancient civilizations around the globe: these, I go back to when I feel like I need to know how a particular mythic narrative works. Then, there are favorite novels, which I lose myself in to remind myself of the sheer pleasure of the written word. There are books of poetry, which I enjoy for their varied beauty at the same time as I mine them for lessons on effective technique.

I think it’s good to consider the relationships we have with different texts in our lives – even boring ones, like the drivers’ manuals in our glove boxes or the Idiot’s Guide to Cooking Things in Crock Pots. As writers, we seek to give each of our works a purpose. By considering the purposes of our favorite texts, we become a little more aware of how the best authors make their texts serve those purposes.

Writing Is a Job – So Act Like It

Block jointAn acquaintance of mine, upon learning that I write for a living, sighed in disgust and shook his head. “So,” he said,  “you’re telling me you just sit around and write books all day?”

Now, I am a lady, so I will keep my unabridged opinion of this fellow out of the public eye. I think it’s perfectly appropriate, however, to share my complete disgust with people who look at writers this way. What in God’s name are you doing with your life, sir, that doesn’t involve some hours spent “sitting around and writing?” What noble pursuit do you spend your time on that requires no paperwork, no e-mailing or texting clients, no preparing a plan for the job ahead?

Writing is not a frivolous pursuit. Whether you’re preparing a proposal for a construction job or crafting a literary masterpiece exploring the darkest corners of human consciousness, you are laboring when you sit down to compose something. Never forget this. Never walk away from a novel because you don’t think it’s “real work.” Never abandon a poem in its first draft because you could be doing “more productive things” with your time.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to be a professional writer – and not just because this is an unforgiving profession where you must learn to thrive on criticism from your peers. Full-time artists of all kinds are constantly being told that we aren’t doing real work, that our labor isn’t worth money, that we’re just tricking people into paying us for doing something ‘fun.’ Ignore the people who tell you that.

If you need convincing, try keeping tack of the hours you spend crafting your pieces, finding clients, and developing the ideas that make your writing great. If the documentation of your own labor can’t convince you that you’re doing ‘real’ work, then consider asking a friend to gently but firmly slap some sense into you before you lose your rhythm in your latest project. One of the easiest ways to fail as a creative writer is to stop believing that what you do ‘counts.’ Stop selling yourself short.