Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writing, Vocation, and Relationship

Last Friday, I took a walk to the bank.  It was a gorgeous day, a little warmer than I'd expected for mid-October.

In my pocket was a check, the depositing of which was the whole purpose of my walking.  Oh, sure, I could have driven.  Or I could have used one of those check-scanning apps my bank keeps pitching.  But neither of those things gets me out walking under a crisp blue sky on a beautiful day.

The check itself was something of a novelty.  It was the first half of the advance from my publisher in anticipation of my novel, which in and of itself remains sort of bizarre and unreal seeming.  By first-novel-author standards, it was remarkably generous, large enough to represent a couple of months worth of my appropriately modest half-time pastorly salary.

What struck me, as I took this...writing income...to the bank was that it marked the first time writing has yielded much more than nominal returns. So far, my efforts have yielded the kinds of income that has my wife patting me on the head and saying "That's nice, dear."  Then we'd go out to Chipotle to celebrate, and blow the whole wad on burrito bowls.

As much as I love to write, I'm fully aware that writing isn't the most reliable of professions if you're planning on eating and/or having a roof over your head.  It's a work of love, a thing I do because I like to do it.  I am not alone in this.  There are millions like me, millions, a sea of authors out there fervently cranking away on their novels and memoirs and illustrated books of Esperanto Haiku.  Por infanoj! Infanoj amas Esperanton!

Last year, when I wrote the manuscript for The English Fall during National Novel Writing Month, I was one of over 310,000 folks who completed a novel-length work of fiction.  I was a writer then, in that I was writing.  I've cranked out a number of silly little self-published books over the years, short stories here and there and a modestly received little ebook on God and the nature of creation.  Do they make me a writer?

Sort of, which is the peculiar thing about writing.  The act itself is not the fullness of being a writer.

Neither is the receiving of income.  Am I more of a writer now that I'll have to attend to it on my next tax return?  Now that, for this moment, at least, I can think of myself as...professional?

Again, sort of, but not entirely.

What makes a writer vocationally a writer, I am convinced, is not the act of writing itself.  That act is as intimate as a thought, as solitary as a daydream.

It is the relationship the written word establishes when others read what you have written.  You are a writer when those words you have crafted carry your dreamings over into the soul of another.

I am a writer for you when you see, in the eye of your imagining, something like the world I have seen in my own.  If I tell you, hey, I'm an author, that reality remains an abstraction until you have engaged with those thoughts, and let them play through your mind.  It is only real when you have known the voices of my characters, felt the road beneath their feet and the rain on their faces.

It's like saying, "I'm a pastor."  It is a vocation...a calling, a state of doing...that is only truly known when it is witnessed or encountered by another.


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