Working and Writing

When I was a kid, I never wanted to be a ballerina or an astronaut. I wanted to be a writer. I wrote all through school. My undergraduate degree is in Writing. I kept a journal for twenty years. Yet I haven’t written a creative word since 2006. I often wonder if I’m being a sell-out because I have a totally square day job. *

Then I heard author Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone, My Own Country: A Doctors Story) at the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Monday Night Series. Verghese is an Infectious Diseases doctor who also happens to have an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. He spoke eloquently about having a calling in life. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham is what inspired him to become a doctor. A very specific quote from it motivated him to write:

“Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without an adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off. The only thing to be careful about is that you do not pay more than a shilling for the shilling you earn. You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like a cancer.”

Verghese believes that if you have a job you love and pays the bills, you’re darn lucky. (Because despite the prevailing wisdom, suffering doesn’t make you more creative.)  And if you are able to write too, well, that’s gravy.

So. I’m going to write. Here are the books that inspire me to write.

For the language

For the characters

  • City of Thieves by David Benioff, a Jewish soldier in Russia, a dead German paratrooper, larger-than-life deserter Kolya.
  • World Without End by Ken Follet, a peasant’s wife, a knight, a builder and a nun.
  • Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende, the beautiful slave Zarité, French aristocrat Toulouse, Haiti, New Orleans.

For the story

  • Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefons Falcones de Sierra, the building of the Santa Maria del Mar in 14th Century Barcelona.
  • A Blade of Grass by Lewis DeSoto, two young woman surviving a civil war in post-colonial Africa.
  • So Much for That by Lionel Shriver, a darkly moving (and funny) story about the failure of the United States health care system.

For the voice

  • Room by Emma Donoghue, the voice of Jack, a five year old boy.
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak, the voice of Death (quite kind, actually.)
  • Dog Boy by Eva Hornug, the voice of an abandoned Russian toddler and a pack of wild dogs.

Hopefully I write the next Great American Novel and get filthy rich. However, in the event that I don’t, at least I have a job I love.


*This is a patently ridiculous worry, as I went to graduate school (and I hate school) to get this specific job and kind of love it.


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7 responses to “Working and Writing

  1. Awesome, you just inspired me to think about what I used to want to do (I wanted to go to art school and would draw endlessly for years beforehand); however, I do have a job I love (hooray for libraries!) and it does pay the bills I have for now, so I guess it’s still a winning situation haha. I will make myself pick up a pencil and start sketching though. And writing, because I enjoy that as well.

  2. NJS

    Money makes you comfortable… Not happy.

  3. Jess

    A few more for language – “Shadow of the Wind,” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Josh Ritter’s “Bright’s Passage,” and “The Solitude of Prime Numbers,” by Paolo Giordano.

  4. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Your blog is constant creative language.
    I love your “language” choices, although I would add Toni Morrison and Carol Shields to that list of writers.

  5. Yeah, the starving writer routine is not nearly as glamorous as some portray it.

  6. A fantastic post and post~Again ! THANK you so much! Deborah

  7. lectorconstans

    That “very specific quote” marks him as a fine writer.

    NJS: “Money makes you comfortable… Not happy.”

    It may not make you happy, but it can dispel a lot of misery.

    There is daily evidence of your point in the sad stories of “celebrities” who wander through the pages of the National Enquirer, from marriage to drugs to drink to the occasional jail cell.

    Money is a bit like talent: you can make good use of it, or you can waste it.

    Then there’s Ray Bradbury’s advice to a young writer: write a story a week. After a year, you’ve got 52 stories – at least one of them is bound to be good.

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