The “Man (or woman if you are one) Of Letters” – guest post by Timothy Bowman

The “Man (or woman if you are one) Of Letters” *

When I was in high school, the head of the English Department, who must have once been a mover and shaker in the publishing world, staged an event at our school celebrating Canadian authors. I say he must have been influential because of the lineup of authors who made personal appearances, including Pierre Berton and Farley Mowat.

For the entire day, each of the many authors in attendance held informal seminars including readings and question periods. As I moved from one author to another, it finally dawned on me why I found this all so exciting: here was a group of people who did not have jobs, people who did not draw a salary, did not report to a workplace and were not subject to managers. I was seeing, first hand, the “Man Of Letters”, someone who literally lives by his wits, who takes the product of his own mind, transfers it to paper and makes a living thereby.

Although I have always been a voracious reader, I had never before met a published author, nor did I know anyone who had. In my little backwater of a town people punched clocks and lived on their wages. So you can imagine the impression meeting these authors made on me; it is safe to say I was inspired. I started writing short stories and found a freelance job writing a weekly student news column for the local paper. I considered studying journalism.

Thirty-five years later I can report that I did not become a “Man Of Letters”. I did not even become a journalist. I did get paid to do a lot of writing in my career, but it was all by way of facilitating the private or corporate communication of others. I never did make a living by original writing. I don’t lose any sleep over this. I did interesting things, some of which were important, some of which I was even passionate about, for a time. Along the way I built a family and I take good care of them out of the proceeds of my work, and that is very fulfilling in an entirely different way.

My point (and I’m sure you will be pleased to see that I have one and am getting to it) is this; what is the difference between someone who can write (but doesn’t) and someone who must write (and does so, unceasingly)? What makes an author believe that what they have to say is worth the time and money of other readers? Why are they willing to gamble so much time and painful effort on something that, for most authors, will never be read by anyone other than the editor who rejects it? I know all about why someone who can write would choose not to stake his life on writing; what I would like to hear about is what drives those who are willing to stake their lives on it?

Timothy Bowman

* (Parenthetical portion of title courtesy of Colin Hay’s song “Beautiful World” from the album “Going Somewhere”.)

Choosing to Be a Writer – Guest Post by Maria Rainier

Choosing to Be a Writer: Ulterior Motives and Good Intentions

Like many college students, I had a hard time focusing on just one subject to study – one major to define four years of my life and provide the foundation for my career. It was a lot of pressure from professors, from family, and mostly from inexplicable reactions that happened in an unfamiliar territory that felt like my stomach suffering from indigestion. The pressure grew into uncontrolled worry, paranoia, and insomnia before I decided to end it regardless of the consequences. After settling haphazardly on Spanish and international studies, I immediately switched to piano performance and allowed the incessant demand for hard work to swallow my thoughts and energy. Three years passed before I made my last and most difficult change, deciding to study English with a concentration in professional writing and rhetoric. Why?

On Writing for Life

It’s a question I often ask myself, and others who consider my behavior strange have demanded solid reasons for my apparent mismanagement of self and of others’ resources. To them, I point out that I did graduate in four years, magna cum laude. They no longer feel that I owe an explanation, but on solitary afternoons without music, I have to answer my own question. I do miss the piano and the ability to enjoy the company of other musicians who need no words to communicate. But the practical side of me that’s been unfairly paired with a strictly creative spirit is fulfilled by writing and left cold by music.

I began to approach the idea of becoming a writer when I realized that studying music would not equip me for life after college. It was a purely practical urge, one that I had ignored in order to focus on developing myself as a musician, and it had grown to a size that couldn’t be ignored. I knew that out of the slew of impractical skills and hobbies I had, writing was the most practical and had the most potential for getting me through life in the real world. What I didn’t expect from it was the opportunity to be creative.

Writing as Profession

I’m a professional writer. I use writing as a versatile tool to accomplish a variety of goals, such as successful communication, informing others, constructing marketing campaigns, publicizing, and even entertaining. I manipulate words to achieve specific effects – the ultimate practical use of writing. And although I’m not changing the world or solving its problems, my practical side is satisfied that I’m able to support myself while I plot my next move. Fortunately, that’s not where my decision to be a writer ends – I also allow myself to enjoy writing as a creative enterprise.

Writing as Creation

They say you should write every day if you want to become a serious writer. I do that as work, but it’s not what I would be writing if I had the choice – and I think that’s the important part of writing for personal development. After I’ve worked all day, writing for two different jobs, I have to find a way to rediscover writing as creation. At night, I leave the keyboard out of the equation, grab a notebook and a few pens, and leave my home office. It doesn’t matter if I just go sit in my car to write or if I go to a café, but physically leaving work for play is the only way I can access my creative writer. And without that opportunity to write as release, I wouldn’t be a writer.

The Nature of Writing

It’s an interesting entity. Writing can be every bit as artistic as painting, performing music, acting, or dancing, but it’s also a tool that can be used for efficient communication – a tool that’s indispensable in today’s corporate and social world. I like to think that I’ve chosen both practicality and creativity, and it’s a great feeling.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she’s been researching different online bsw degrees and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.