A Writer’s Life You Can Be Proud Of

Friendly Advice and Friends in the Know
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

I’m not a great schmoozer – I should admit that up front.  And while most people who see me in action – either professionally or socially – find it hard to believe that I am actually quite shy, the truth is that while I enjoy making real connections with colleagues, contacts and friends, I am adverse to any interaction that seems false.  I hate contrived conversations and the tit-for-tat tête-à-têtes that swirl around the networking events and professional meetings.  But I also know that we must sometimes do the thing we cannot do, face the dragons that we wish we could ignore, and smilingly sip wine at networking happy hours.

I am lucky to have a circle of friends who also happen to share my interest in cultivating a creative career.  These folks live design and art and photography.  They dive into the deep-end of social media marketing with their eyes wide open.  I’m surrounded by so many interesting trailblazers, and I feel lucky to be able to tap into their experience, their advice and their twitter feeds.

Today, through the twitter transom one such friend toss over a great little article entitled “How to Have a Career: Advice to Young Writers.”  Written by Sarah Manguso for FSG’s Work in Progress, the piece lays out advice on money, health, friends favors and how to live a writer’s life you can be proud of.  Manguso has a couple of books under her belt (including The Two Kinds of Decay, which was named an Editor’s Choice by the New York Times Sunday Book Review and short-listed for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize).  Here’s a working writer who knows what it takes – what you should embrace, attempt and abandon – to see a creative project through to its completion.

She starts off hot with the advice that you must be nothing if not relentless with your writing.  “All over the world, people are working harder than you,” she warns.  A quick peak at the websites and blogs of other freelance writers or editors quickly back up this claim.  Every day I come across another writer, another editor, another creative careerist doing it harder and doing it better.  It’s an unrelenting tide, so keep paddling lest you get lost in the undertow.

Manguso also lays out why financial planning and economy are king. Restraint is key and Manguso believes aspiring writers should “learn to live on air.”  Good health ought to be cultivated we well, since we all know doctors’ visits and medical costs can quickly drain even the healthiest bank account.  “Sickness is a waste of time and money,” counsels Manguso.

Let’s face it, financial problems are an unnecessary distraction.  Worrying about money will only drain you and suck all creativity right out of you.  Focusing on cash flow and despairing over diminishing returns will leave you hollowed out; imaging worst case scenarios and life as a bag lady.  It’s hard, but Manguso has hit on an important point: money is a demon trickster who will do whatever he can to pull you away from the page, resist him and use budgetary restraint to keep his antics at bay.

The last half of Manguso’s column focuses on building and maintaining relationships – both business and personal.  When discussing friendships, Manguso echoes Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way declaration that crazy makers must be avoided at all costs.  “Avoid all messy and needy people including family, they threaten your work,” explains Manguso.  “You may believe a messy life supplies material, but it in fact distracts you from understanding that material, and until you understand it, it is useless to you.”

In other words, keep the drama on the page.

Ad while friends can be sincere or sinister hanger-ons, it’s important to conscientiously manage the exchange of favors and assistance.  When it comes to actd of kindness s, Manguso supports meting out assistance based on the idea that you are a valuable commodity, “Learn to graciously decline,” advises Manguso. “The world will catch on that you are a valuable commodity.”

Ultimately, Manguso advocates pursuing the goal of creating creating great work with a bit of kindness, dignity and confidence.  Prune out what you don’t need – messy finances, unhealthy habits, crazy-making friends – and focus on promoting positivity and support.  Cultivate allies and keep an eye on enemies, but at the same time “don’t respond to personal attacks” and remember that “people have long memories.”

It’s a “golden rule” view of the working writer’s life: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  That means being polite, doing good work and operate under a banner of compassion and understanding – writing well and living well and having faith it’ll all be worth it in the end.

Because ultimately, Manguso is not all that concerned with specific tools or tricks of the trade, she’s not interested in telling young writers how to edit or promote their work.  The focus of her essay is not on crafting content, but on crafting a writer’s lifestyle.  Sometimes we forget that writing is not just a career, it’s also a way of living and processing the world around us.  It’s nice to be reminded once in a while that writing doesn’t just improve life; it helps us become truer, healthier, more benevolent versions of ourselves.

“Bringing great work to the world is your job,” Manguso writes, before adding the caveat, “don’t expend energy in writing and publishing that would be better used in your family or community.”

“Become tempered by life,” she concludes, “ Make compromises for love.  Provide a service to the world.  These experiences form the adult mind.  Without them both you and your work will remain juvenile.”

One thought on “A Writer’s Life You Can Be Proud Of

  1. I read some of her advices aloud to my coworkers and they responded back: “Its all pretty basic.” It sounds obvious, but we don’t realize how most of the time we are not on track with our career plans and its so easy to get back to them.

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