So Is Writing A Job Or Not?

Writers have an answer.

Photo: Matt Zhang

Is writing a job? The Billfold’s Ester Bloom says no:

Kafka, Dickens, Nabokov — they all had day jobs. Novelists have day jobs! Roxane Gay, who is busy and accomplished enough to be several people, still has a day job. Writers have day jobs because being a writer isn’t a job. Writing is a thing you can do if you like it! It’s a thing you might get paid for, now and again, if you’re good at it! But it’s not a job.

Electric Lit’s Lincoln Michel says screw you, The Billfold’s Ester Bloom, it is too a job:

[S]omething can be a job even if it doesn’t pay you as much as you wish it would. Many literary writers today work as professors, editors, or book publicists while also earning income from writing. Many lucky authors who could live entirely off of their writing still work a part-time or even full-time job for extra money (because the Baby Boomers destroyed the global economy and shit is fucking tough out there). Still, earning 50% of your income teaching and 50% of your income freelance writing doesn’t mean that one or the other “isn’t a job” or is something you should approach with the attitude that you only “might get paid for, now and again.”

This is an important debate and yet it sidesteps an even more vital question: Why don’t we treat people who write with more derision and contempt, and also scorn and disdain? Why do we pretend that they are worthy of our respect or admiration? Why are we even spending time arguing about whether or not some jackoff with a burning desire for recognition and a thesaurus open in a nearby tab is performing notable labor? It is beyond dispute that writers are irritating sociopaths whose stunning levels of egotism are comically at odds with the repulsiveness they attempt to hide from the world under a mountain of verbiage. Even worse, their sincere conviction that what they do is not only necessary for the advancement of society but some sort of calling thrust upon them by a higher power manages to blend pretension and hilarity in quantities no one has quite managed since Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video, although in writers it is genuinely offensive, as opposed to how Madonna did it.

There’s an old saying about writing

It’s horrible bullshit perpetrated on a disinterested public by people who believe their insights and feelings are somehow more precise and honest and worthy of attention than anyone else’s, and the self-indulgence is so grotesque that it makes acting, which at least involves some amount of physical labor, seem like a genuine and worthwhile profession. Also, the people who do it are by and large unattractive, and I don’t mean personality-wise, although let’s face it, they are as fuck-all ugly on the inside as they are on the outside. The astounding degree of self-regard it takes for someone to call himself a writer, let alone set out to put his idiot thoughts on paper with the expectation that they will be both read and welcomed is a better argument against Darwin’s theory of evolution that any Bible-thumping evangelist could ever dream of. Fuck writers. I mean, not literally, they are unfuckable. The only thing that they are worse at than sex is writing about sex. Let’s shun them altogether.

that, while perhaps a tad vehement in its expression, does not suffer from a lack of accuracy in its assessment. (You might not be surprised to learn that sources suggest this quote comes from Marilyn vos Savant, the smartest woman in the world.) So yes, maybe writing is a job. Maybe it isn’t. But shouldn’t we be spending more time on making the people who do it feel as bad about themselves as we feel when we are subject to what they do? I have to believe that this is where we should really be focusing our energies. Thank you for your support.