Writing: Is It Work?

Theodore Roosevelt has made life very tough for me.

Obviously, since I am “only” 37 years old and he passed away in 1919, I have not been affected in any direct way by the 26th President of the United States of America. It might be more accurate to say the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt has haunted me for quite some time now. Roosevelt was a “man’s man” if ever there was one. He was a boxer, a historian, a cowboy, a military leader, a jungle explorer, and probably would have been the first man to walk on the moon if the space program had been around in the early 1900s. Thomas R. Marshall, who served as Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, famously remarked, “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”

I know several men who have studied Roosevelt quite extensively. They revere him for his American spirit and the way he lived his life, and rightly so. Roosevelt possessed a type of masculinity which not only allowed him to accomplish great things, but also to inspire greatness in others. He never seemed to tire of work, whether it came in the form of athletics, academics, or politics.

As inspiring a figure as Roosevelt is, however, he can be just as daunting as well, particularly if your name and the words “man’s man” have never shared space in the same sentence before. While Roosevelt’s life seemed to consist of constant motion and activity, mine often seems to be marked by long periods of stagnation. Whereas Roosevelt always seemed to have a plan of action, I seem to spend vast amounts of time wandering around trying to figure out what to do. The words “Roosevelt” and “results” seem to go together like the words “Sheridan” and “um, well…”

The are few times in life when I really feel “in the groove”, but a large majority of those times have come when I am doing exactly what I’m doing right now – writing. As much as I enjoy writing posts for this blog, however, the fact remains that I receive no compensation for doing this. Granted, I have managed to exert a little influence here and there, but I cannot say what I have done here has had much of an impact on my life or the lives of others. That is why I often think about taking that most insane of leaps – going from merely writing for recreation to writing for a living.

To clarify, I have made money from writing, as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer. What I’m talking about is working outside of the realm of an employer, more in the area of books or columns or a revenue-generating blog or Web site or something like that. To be honest, I have no idea what I’m thinking of doing. What I do know is it will involve work. The only problem is it doesn’t necessarily feel that way.

See, work is what real men do. They build houses. They serve as law enforcement or emergency personnel. They program computers or design software. They’re engineers. They’re farmers. They’re not writers. In fact, some of those professions I just mentioned also possess some darn good writers who could probably just as easily earn their living from doing that. Point is, those people are doing something. Writing, to me, doesn’t feel like doing anything. It’s sitting. It’s thinking. It’s typing. At the end of many days there is very little to show for your efforts. No houses are standing, no crops have been farmed, no services have been rendered.

I realize writing and writers are necessary. The world has, literally, been changed by words people have written. It’s just hard for me to reconcile writing with bare-knuckled, sweat-inducing work. It just doesn’t feel like enough, and that is what often leads me to inactivity. “It’s not worth it,” I say to myself. “You should be finding something more tangible to spend your time doing.” Next thing I know, the day’s over and no words have been written. And they really should have been.

It seems like there are a billion wannabe authors out there. Is there anything left to say? Surely there must be. Is what I have to say unique enough to bear listening to? Ordinarily, that would be the million dollar question, and it does have some relevance here. My overall question, though, lies in the title of this post itself. Is writing really work? Is it something worth dedicating oneself to above all other pursuits or should it serve as an extension of more practical efforts?

I have a feeling there is no easy answer to this question. Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz once described to “O: The Oprah Magazine” the five-year struggle that went into writing the novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” and the process was not a happy one. Family relationships were strained, money was lost, sanity was questioned. As a father of four, it’s not worth that much to me. It is worth enough to me to work, though. I just have to figure out what that means for someone whose main gift seems to be the ability to put words on a page.

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