Adam’s Curse

June 17, 2014

Quote of the Day from Mike Tuberty’s blog, Boat Against the Current …

Elizabeth Hardwick, on Making a Living as a Writer:

“Making a living is nothing; the great difficulty is making a point, making a difference—with words.” —Elizabeth Hardwick, “Grub Street: New York,” The New York Review of Books, February 1, 1963

I greatly admire Elizabeth Hardwick. (And thanks to Mike Tuberty for providing the quote above.) But as someone who’s made a living as a writer for the past 30 years, I strongly dissent from the assertion that making a living as a writer (or a teacher, or a sanitation worker, or a nurse, or a salesperson—you name it) is “nothing.” From my experience, the only people for whom making a living is nothing are trust-fund babies (“trustafarians”).

Writing is work. Like any other job, it’s a matter of showing up, of living with highs and lows—of successes punctuated by terrible disappointments—of insecurity and doubts and fears, and above all else of persisting. I’ve always wondered where the romantic notion about writing comes from—the notion that it’s some sort of idyll of the imagination that’s easier than other forms of work.

Nobody has ever put it better than W.B. Yeats in his poem “Adam’s Curse”:

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’

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