Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Labor of Writing

Each Labor Day (tomorrow here in the States), I ponder the idea of work. In the very old days, we labored to support our own subsistence: growing food, building shelter. For most of human history, this has been the case for most humans - those not wealthy or powerful enough to have others to do this work for us, toil daily to stay alive.

I'm not inclined to romanticize manual labor. (I'm pretty lazy, after all.) But one thing about growing food and building shelter - it's pretty clear when you've been successful, and pretty clear when you haven't. A crop yields enough to feed the family: success. The roof springs leaks and rain pours in: not so much.

So much of human labor these days deals in abstractions. At work, we have "performance goals" and "efficiency metrics," trying to measure the abstract idea of success. And in our writing, we set goals too - so many words per day, so many pages, another query written, an agent's interest, a publication contract, a final book.

Do total book sales make our work a success? Or is it total readers? The number of stars on a review? Enough reviews on Amazon to make it into the "also purchased" feed?

Or is it a story well told, an accurate representation of our imagination on the page?

Like any good story, there's no tidy ending, no easy answers. But, when we take an extra day on Monday to honor those who labor (and there's still plenty of hard physical work going on, ask all the firefighters in my state this summer), maybe we can also pause to consider the fruits of our work. And celebrate that we are, after all, supporting our own subsistence with works of art.

Elizabeth Fountain writes about abstract ideas like belonging, friendship, and love, in books filled with aliens and angels, dogs and goats. You can read her blog and find out more about her work on her website, Point No Point.


Olga Godim said...

Great post, Elizabeth. I've been struggling with the same questions myself.

Liz Fountain said...

Thanks, Olga - hey, if you figure out the answers, let me know! :)