Seems like maybe this might be considered, by a vast majority, as a fairly easy question. However, I have always been of the belief that what seems obvious, probably is not so. Appearances are often misleading, and what is apparent for one, might not be so for another. I believe this subject certainly falls into the category of less than obvious; thus I shall attempt to bear down my thoughts on the matter, and bring it out of the darkness. With that in mind, grab yourself a cup of coffee or whatever beverage you desire, and let’s venture forth.
Before we sprawl into the main subject at hand we should address, at least briefly, if writing is even a job. I know the idea that writing is not a job might appear to be a little ludicrous to most, yet I shall state this as clearly as possible. There are some that would argue writing is NOT a job. To be honest this might actually fall into the realm of perception. Perceptions are often twisted by many factors. Society in general, friends, family, and even co-workers, can have an effect on how we perceive things. In fact, almost every experience we have in life affects our perceptions to some degree and often, we are not aware that it has happened. I am pretty certain I could write an entire piece about perceptions, without breaking a sweat, but that would not serve the purpose and direction of this particular writing, therefore I will simply state that some people, rightly or wrongly, do not perceive writing to be a job. How they got there is not really the issue. Their reasons for believing something like this can be varied. It might be the simple idea that if you are not being paid, you are not really working. It could be they think work constitutes something which contains no fun, happiness, or self fulfillment. Really there are potentially so many reasons why someone might believe this. Even my own son does not believe writing is a job. I say this not to point fingers but to demonstrate how easily our perceptions can be manipulated even at an early age. Even I could, at some level, agree with part of this viewpoint. I could agree that just sitting down and writing something…anything is not work in the traditional sense. However, there is a limit to my agreement on this.
My position on this should be a matter of clarity. If what you are doing requires work and effort, then it is a job. Artistic careers all suffer the same effect. The pay often does not reflect the effort put forth. How many musicians, painters, writers, etc. have died having never been shown the recognition they deserve? How many of them lived in poverty their entire lives? There is a reason for the phrase “starving artist”. In conclusion, all artistic careers, while perhaps often being thankless, are still jobs. I am certain some might not agree with this opinion, and far be it from me to even attempt to change their closed minds, but this is the premise upon which I will move forward, like it or not.
Having established at least to my mind,(and hopefully a few readers out there aswell)that writing is indeed a job, let us move into the heart of the matter, the purpose of this writing, the reason for the existence of the writing.
All writers, whether they write fiction or non-fiction have some similar job functions. From casual observation this statement might appear to be false but let me assure you it is true. All writers have a story they wish to share. It does not matter if the story is true or completely made up. They have a story they believe others would want to know. Therefore, realizing you have a story to share is the first part of the job. While this may seem rather apparent, some writers do not seem to grasp this basic premise. If you realize what you have, you will put forth the effort to make it happen. True realization is not just an idea. True realization leads to action and thus the work is realized through that action. The action that is required to make this realization a reality comes in the form of work. From outline to “The End”. Once we have realized that we have a story to tell, we must begin work on the second part of our job.
The second part of any writer’s job is to tell their story in a way that will make the readers want to keep reading. Quite obviously this part of the job not only requires a certain degree of creativity, it also requires some planning. It should be noted here that I believe the latter is far more important the former. I see you think that maybe I mis-stated this. How could planning be more important that creativity? If the answer were a simple one, I would just state it. The answer is not simple or easily stated but will become more visible, as I go into detail about what both planning and creativity entail, in regards to the writer’s job.
One could write a story, the story they have decided has merit, by writing from beginning to end. However this, most likely, will not fulfill that second job requirement; keep the reader interested in reading. Would you read a book if it just laid down the facts; if there was no reason to turn the page and find out what is next? I highly doubt it. What keeps the reader interested is curiosity. The desire to know what is going to happen next. Even knowing the end does not preclude you from wanting to know exactly how it happened. Therefore, telling a tale in a less than straight-forward manner becomes essential for all writers, if the want to keep the reader engaged. Even the non-fiction writers have need of this. Is not the ultimate goal, to have the readers read our story? The whole story?
To accomplish this main goal and complete our job we must do some planning to keep those readers wanting to read more. In this planning we can decide where to drop hints at hidden information, we can plan out the order of the story and we can even decide on any sub-plots that might add to it. Always the main the goal should be kept in mind. We want the readers to read the entire story. If we are not doing the planning, we are not doing part of our job.
Then there is the creative aspect of the job. Now remember earlier, I stated that planning is more important that creativity. Let’s look at how creativity is used and see how it affects the story.
In trying to tell our story, we want to tell it in a way, the reader has not seen before. However, we do not want to lose the reader by being too creative. Too many adjectives, verbs, adverbs, etc. can bog down a sentence; making it harder to understand. If we lose the reader with all of our flowery words, how much do you think they are going to read? If we lose the reader then we are not doing our job. A rein must be put on our creativity. We want the story to get told, and we want the reader to read it therefore, we must not chase them away with creative overflow. Our creativity is best used in deciding how to tell the story, not in the actual telling of the story. In understanding this, we can begin to see how my earlier statement of planning being more important than creativity, might be true.
Thus far we have discussed what are probably the most tangible aspects of the writer’s job. Those were easy and not too hard to define. However, like every artistic endeavor there in-tangible aspects. The most prominent of those being the deepest reason for creating the writing in the first place. As I stated earlier, we believed we had a story worth being told, but what is that reason? What is the value of that reason? What is it’s importance to this world? This time? These are just a few of the questions we should ask ourselves before we even touch a pen to paper or type out that outline. But why should we ask these questions?
We ask these questions because it is the last part of an writer’s job. A writer is not supposed to be just telling a story. A writer is supposed to giving to the reader what they learned from it. If we do not attempt to do this then we are taking the value of the story away. Every story has a reason for existing. I’ll repeat that because it is important. EVERY story has a reason for existing. We, as writers, must find that reason. It is imperative to the telling. It is the bone the meat clings to. Granted what you think is the reason for the story, might be different from what the readers end up seeing or finding, but that should not dissuade us from attempting to incorporate it into the story. Only through incorporating this last in-tangible aspect into the story does it transcend “just a writing” status and reach “work of art’ status. It must be done if we are to do our job completely.
Well, there you have it…what I believe a writer’s job entails. Don’t agree? Think I missed something? Speak up and let your thoughts be known.
© 2011- J.B. Thomas