Writing is labor

When we think of labor, we often think about unions and steamfitters and autoworkers and construction crews. What about writers?

Writing is labor, too.

Sitting down to write an essay or fiction story or poem or annual report or academic grant may not require you to wear steel-toed boots and get your hands dirty, but there are many forms of labor.

Writing is intellectual labor. Paying attention to your world, tapping into your experiences and memories, researching an unfamiliar culture or practice, thinking about how this sentence can be turned and changed and altered until it sounds like the sweetest tuning fork – that is labor.

Writing is emotional labor. Crafting a story or essay about a personal experience requires feeling that moment all over again, tears and anger and laughter and all. Writing can be cathartic, but the emotions drawn up from the deep well often set us back, makes us think and reconsider, and might even prevent the words from coming to the surface.

Writing is imaginative labor. Imagining a place or a person that doesn’t exist requires a great deal of creativity. Imagining that place or person that doesn’t exist and being able to render that place and person as realistic is an even greater feat. Our imaginations work hard to re-create scenes from the past where the details are now fuzzy – we must imagine them into clarity while being honest and truthful in their representation. We imagine ideas coming to life in tactile form, spinning out of our brains and through our fingertips onto the page or screen. We imagine. And it is exhausting and exhilarating and time-consuming.

And unlike these other, more tangible and visible, forms of labor? Writing is labor that never, ever stops. We don’t work from 6 – 2 or 9 – 5 five days a week. We writers mull ideas over as we watch mindless reality TV, gaze at the garden with a cup of coffee cooling in our hands, and sit in traffic on the way to work. A writer’s mind never stops, never shuts off, never quiets. It is always seeking, thinking, searching, connecting.

That is the beauty and curse of being a writer. Our labor is a 24/7 operation, but we thrive on those flashes of insight that come from the constant hum of ideas rolling around in our imaginations as they collide with daily experiences seen and observed. We love that moment of startling clarity when we know just the right words to use in that scene or ending.

Writers labor, and deserve to be paid for this labor that brings the world fresh stories, new ideas, and original insights.

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