[THE WRITER'S LIFE] Will Write for Food

Vocation (Latin: vocātiō  a call, summons) is an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained, or qualified.

A friend of mine was recently accepted into a select, rigorous creative writing masters program. I received the news with a mix of admiration and envy. The admiration part was to her face: “That is such a great honor! Congratulations!” I included a side order of sour grapes with the envy part: “Well, what can you do with a writing degree, anyway?” I thought secretly to myself.

There is nothing I’d like more than to kick all my daily responsibilities and commitments to the curb and be a part of a program where all we do is think, talk and write about writing all day long. Even more, I’d love to don a cap and gown at the end of whatever amount of time that might take and accept, graciously, my degree certifying that I am, in fact, a Writer.  Please know that I am not minimizing my friend’s accomplishment. She has worked very hard in her life to get to a point where she can take the time to enter such a program, which will require even more hard work. No, no minimizing on my part. But, still . . .

One can get a degree in all of the creative arts: Writing, Painting, Music, Visual Arts, Acting. But where do you take this degree to get a job? Pursuing a career in the creative arts is the only vocation that you can study and train for in an accredited college or university and get a degree, but you can’t effectively use that degree in a job interview. “Yes, I’m applying for the job of Best-selling Author. Why, that’s a wonderful benefits package, thank you!”

Writing, as with all the creative arts, is a vocation requires the appreciation and support of others. It is a calling that becomes an avocation unless you happen to live with a partner or spouse who pays the mortgage and buys the groceries. Many of the writers I know (and poets, painters, photographers, etc.) usually have a day job, too. Personally, I have taught over the years to support my calling; elementary school kids, teachers, college students, retirees. I have done other things: cleaning houses comes to mind as a particularly challenging job and one for which I was totally ill suited. (Never ask me to come over and clean your house. Not even if you’re desperate.)

Most jobs have a built in system by which customers come to you: doctors, teachers, beauticians, mechanics. There is accountability in these vocations, but for the most part, people seek out these professionals. Or employers go looking for degreed or experienced folks to fill positions. Nobody is looking for a writer, except maybe for grants, and I bet for most of the grant writers out there, grant writing is their day job, too.

Outside of a traditional curriculum, writers engage in an earnest course of study; a continuing education, if you will. While doctors read current research, we read dictionaries and thesauruses.  Teachers study the latest pedagogy and we study body language and make up dialog for strangers. Success for a mechanic is a full garage and appointment calendar; our successes are usually experienced in solitary after we’ve worked out a tricky plot issue or received an email that an article was accepted.  

As a writer, and until the day someone starts a company called Best-Selling Authors, Inc. (We Write! You Read! Call Today for a Free Quote!) writing is my vocation, my calling, even as I still clock in to my day job.  It’s not like I have a choice.

Is it society or self that keeps artists “starving?” Is your writing a vocation or avocation? Why? (Or how?)

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  • I definitely consider writing a vocation. I've been doing it since age thirteen: mostly, I later realized, as a vehicle for therapy and self-understanding. But I didn't think I could make a living at it, and so got a degree in the sciences followed by a "real" job, from which I retired. I can now travel (some) and write and live on the retirement income. So far writing has netted me largely an income-tax deduction!

  • I consider being a writer a vocation, as I also consider home-schooling my daughter a vocation. :0)

    Society has a big part in why most artists do not earn a living wage from their work. It seems like all of the employers out there hire workers to make them more money, and the glorified work is most often in the fields of science and engineering.....so those are the best paid.  I wonder what type of shift will be needed to change that trend.