There was at least one very profound thing that I took from my legal career. When I was articling, a lawyer at our firm, someone who I don’t even particularly admire, said something to me in passing. It stuck with me, and I’ve thought about it often, despite not acting on it for years. He said this:
Written expression is a beautiful, but dying art
I have a much deeper appreciation of this statement now than I did seven years ago (when the statement was made).
Words are a beautiful thing. A person who can combine them in a persuasive, educative, informative, funny or tender way is inspiring to me. I love reading, and I do it obsessively. Also, at any given moment of “dead time” in my life, such as driving, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, or other household chores, I can be found listening to an audiobook from Audible.com.
It is very difficult to make a “living” as a writer. I am really happy with how my book is selling, and the feedback that I’ve received thus far but the reality is that, even with a best-selling book, very few authors make an exceptional wage on their writing alone, and of the ones that do, most of them toil in obscurity for years, pumping out book after book, before their work is noticed and embraced by the world. Most writers “starting out” have other jobs, or businesses, or cover their bills by doing corporate ad copy, marketing or other, less “original” writing.
I’m grateful that our business provides a forum for me to continually write, and refine my craft, while I continue to write independent books.
It’s not just the difficulty in establishing oneself as a writer these days, it’s also the reality that people don’t read as much as they used to. I recently “read” that a significant proportion of the North American adult population had not read a single book this year. Bookstores are disappearing rapidly, and our world is becoming increasingly filled with media. Between YouTube, Netflix, and On Demand TV we have a tremendous pull against the motivation for digging into a book, that’s not even considering the massively addictive social media habits that I think all people encounter. If you don’t believe me, go visit a public library. Whenever I take my kids it is generally empty, and the books seem to sit on the shelves like relics from the past.
Sometimes I feel like I was born 100 years too late to really carve out the career as a writer that I want. But oddly enough, despite the massive mountain of resistance that stands in front of me, in establishing myself and my written work, I am tremendously motivated to continue. Here is why:
- Reading and writing are intrinsically enjoyable. That is, they are enjoyable for their own sake, not because of what you get from them. When I write I am happy. When I read I am happy – regardless of the “outcome” of the behaviour. The act is enough. There are very few things that I can say that do this for me (other than perhaps spending time with my family, and doing Jiu-Jitsu);
- Reading is a pleasurable “tactile” experience. I love holding a book in my hands. I love the smell of a new book. I loved getting my first order of Unsuited, opening the box and smelling the books (call me strange, but it was great);
- If the whole world goes to e-books I will still purchase traditional books from used bookstores. I don’t care what the world does, nor do I care if it is “more convenient” to hold 1000 books in my hand at the same time. It’s not for me. Sure I’ll embrace the commercial side of e-book publications (in fact I’m working on an e-book right now), but that doesn’t mean that I’ll be a consumer myself. I’m old fashioned in this regard, and I don’t believe that all technology makes my life better. Some technology lessens my experience, and to me, e-books are one of them;
- I like using my mind, and I find that YouTube videos, movies, TV, even pictures, take away that opportunity. I want to read something and I want to see nothing but words on the paper because it forces me to make the image in my mind, and when I make the image I get to use my mind. It’s a freedom and control thing;
- If you love reading and learning your life will never be boring. There is always something to discover. Life is an adventure and it seems that there are never enough hours in the day for discovery;
- When I read something beautiful, like a powerful poem or a persuasive essay, I get emotionally moved, movies and YouTube clips don’t have the same effect on me;
- I’ve been inspired so many times by written words, I hope that I can inspire other people in the same way, and I hope that the written record of my words can last beyond me;
- I want my kids to love reading. There is only one way to lead, and it is to do. If you don’t love reading how can you expect your kids to love it;
So here is my salute to words, and to the many people who toil in obscurity to make them beautiful for others. Cheers! I’m with you on the front line.