What I Do For a Living

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I've grown to dread telling people what I do for a living. I'm a writer, I'll say.

"What kinds of things do you write?"

"Fiction and nonfiction books. Mostly on religious subjects."

"Would you have written anything I've read?"

This one stumps me, because if the person had read something I'd written, presumably he would know.

The questions and the usual once-over looks reveal the unstated conversation the person must be having with himself. Writers are presumed, I suppose, to occupy a world of demi-celebrity. I get the once-over because people are suspicious of whether I truly belong to this world. "Are you a real writer?" the person will often ask. Which translated means, "Have you been elected to the blessed company of the published?" And if you have, then perhaps I should have heard about you, the person worries, in which case I may be in an embarrassing position.

Sometimes the person accepts what I say at face value and becomes starry-eyed and expectant. The person looks at me as if fireworks might come out of my head.

In this case, I'd really like to oblige and perform a trick or two. I have writer friends who are adept at the required transformation. They wrap themselves in an imaginary cape à la Balzac and assume a magisterial persona.

I remain, alas, humdrum.

I want to say—and sometimes do, "It's a job. An interesting job at times, a difficult one at others, and like any job, more a matter of sheer labor than anything else."

What I long for, and sometimes find, is the person interested in my job as a job, in the way that I'm curious about driving a truck, selling stocks, laying bricks, or understanding what in the world a systems analyst does.

I do love my work and feel privileged to have been given a gift for making things up and putting them into words. When I'm writing and things are going well, I am blissfully unselfconscious—the very opposite of the way I am when talking about it. The imaginary scene or idea keeps prompting words, and these have a force and suggestiveness of their own—the way that marble, while hard, allows for delicacy and even softness. I attend the inherent properties of words, their logic first, then their connotations and metaphoric insouciance, to learn how I can best evoke the scene or idea for others. It's the process itself that's truly intriguing, and I'm a writer because I like to write in just the way that athletes like to compete, brick layers like to build, and systems analysts like their mysterious endeavors.

After I've put in a good day's work, I feel that I've redeemed the time. I've somehow justified my existence, and this feeling comes, I imagine, from behaving as God intends us all to behave, as stewards of the talents He's entrusted us with as co-creators—extenders—of His creation.

This is really what I'd like to tell people about what I do.

And one other thing as well. Occasionally, I find out from a reader that he or she has been moved—entertained, consoled, encouraged—by something I've written. This is truly fulfilling because it completes my work as an act of worship—which I take to be labor undertaken in the joy of life, with gratitude to God, for the benefit of myself and others.