Writing a novel is the most honest work there is.
OK, I’ll dial that back a little. Writing a novel is very honest work.
Modern (corporate) work life is about out-sourcing the dirty work. We must be efficient – doing only what we have to do while securing the most value. Work is about getting money (for us or the company) and then finding ways for that money to make more and do more. Much of this is ethical. It is the way we’ve designed it.
Writing obeys a different set of rules.
Writing is honest work. It is honest like laying brick is honest. Writing is a manual labor. The result of the work is immediately evident. The outcome brings spontaneous judgment. If the work isn’t done well, and the laws of structure aren’t obeyed, the end result will fail. And fail fast.
Watch. Here is a sentence directly from my most recent draft manuscript:
Once I put my head under the water and came back up I felt the breeze as if it had only just now started.
Now I don’t care how much you read, it should be evident to you, right now, that that sentence is terrible on several levels*. (And that the one I just wrote isn’t much better.)
You can’t fake writing a sentence and you certainly can’t fake a story. The right words must be on the page and in precise order or your work is not done. The work won’t get done unless you sit down and do it. You can’t delegate it or hire some whiz kid fresh out of grad school to run it down for you. And you’re terribly unlikely to pad your 401k by writing books.
Writing is honest work.
There is little opportunity in life to see the instant or lasting results of our work. But like the brick bungalow my great-grandfather designed and built at 2723 W. Hayes Street in Peoria Illinois, with diligence and attention to craft, I too can build walls that won’t fall down.
*The fact that this sentence is a disaster was pointed out to me by a colleague in a workshop. This happens all the time. We are, by far, not the best judges of our work. (You are not reading the first draft. My wife read and edited this blog post before I put it up.)