673. How to Be A Writer with A Day Job: A conversation at Festival of Faith and Writing

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At the upcoming Festival of Faith and Writing (FFW) in April, I’ll be leading a “Festival Circle,” which is a small group that meets a couple times during the event to focus on a specific topic. FFW, in case you aren’t familiar with it, is a wonderful 3-day gathering of readers and writers who care about words, ideas, and faith-informed conversation. It’s held every 2 years on the campus of Calvin College in Michigan. The event always gets some big names for the keynote and plenary lectures. I’ve been twice before (here’s a post about it from 2008), and the last time I was there, Marilynne Robinson gave the keynote.

My circle is on the topic of “How to Be A Writer with A Day Job.” If you’ve read my book Finding Livelihood, you will have felt that tension on the pages. Lots of us have that tension, that tension of wanting to have a creative life while also having an economically sustainable life. Unless you’re one of the few best-selling authors or artists who can make a living off the sales of your work or related speaking engagements, or are provided for by a patron or a generous trust fund, chances are you have a day job. How do you balance a felt call to write with the very real responsibility to put food on the table? How do you reserve some of your mental energy for your own writing? How can you transform your divided work life into a unified whole with prosaic potential? What benefits can life away from the writing desk bring to the page? Those are the things we’ll be talking about in my circle.

Here are a couple pearls I've been gathering in preparation:

When reading One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers, by Gail Sher, I found this interview Q&A exchanged between the Paris Review and T.S. Eliot.

Paris Review: Do you think that the optimal career for a poet would involve no work at all but writing and reading?

T. S. Eliot: I think that for me it's been very useful to exercise other activities, such as working in a bank, or publishing...the difficulty of not having as much time as I would like has given me greater pressure of concentration.

And then there’s this excerpt from Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel, in which Kundera discusses Franz Kafka’s creative use of the office setting in his fiction:

"How has Kafka managed to transform such gray, antipoetical material into fascinating novels? The answer can be found in a letter he wrote to Melena: 'The office is not a stupid institution; it belongs more to the realm of the fantastic than of the stupid.'...He saw what no one else could see: not only the enormous importance of the bureaucratic phenomenon for man, for his condition and for his future, but also (even more surprisingly) the poetic potential contained in the phantasmic nature of offices."

I particularly like this last quote because it gives all of us a clue about approaching whatever space we find ourselves in daily as being in the realm of the fantastic, in a place with poetic potential.

If you’re going to FFW, I hope you’ll consider signing up for my circle. Stay tuned to this space as well, because I’ll try to post some more of my prep work on the topic.


UPDATE: A couple weeks ago I posted a list of links to “Best of 2015” book lists and made the note that you wouldn’t Finding Livelihood on any of them. But hooray! Last week, Hearts & Minds Books released part 1 of the “Best Books of 2015” and the book is there! So are lots of other compelling titles to keep you busy reading all year long. Earlier this week, part 2 of the list was posted. Any book on this list is 20% off at Hearts & Minds so it’s a good time to buy a copy of Finding Livelihood, if you haven’t already, or any of the other books on this list.


[Photo: I'm back to our trip to Brooklyn last fall. This was taken in a little shop that sells only key lime pie. "Steve's" boasts that it's one of only two bakeries that uses fresh squeezed authentic key limes. It was a little taste of my Florida homeland on the east coast. Since we've been having morning temps of minus 15 the last couple days here in Minneapolis, this colorful scene warms me.]