Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace conference is this weekend. It’s always a good time of the year in Boston. Hundreds of writerly folks gather to talk craft, to talk publishing, to talk to each other, and to drink (because really, a writing conference is not a writing conference without wine, and look who we get to party with this year). It is an exhausting weekend. It is an informative weekend. It is a weekend that I end reenergized, yearning to feel my laptop keys under the tips of my fingers. It is a good weekend for the writerly soul.
The Muse is also a place where no one questions each other’s definition of themselves as a writer. The keynote speaker will be Colum McCann, a man with obvious writing street cred. I very may well get to speak with Mr. McCann, and though I’ve never met him, I’m pretty sure he’s not going to look at my sparse credentials and tell me I’m not worthy to speak with, that I’m really not a writer. The Muse brings the published and the non-published together, and we are all unified around writing and the value writing has in this world.
Value, I’ve learned, is very important to one’s work. I recently started a new position in a field I hate though am immensely qualified for. To date, I’ve hated every accounting job I’ve ever had. Except the one I just got. It is a start-up so things aren’t running as smoothly as a company that has been in business for decades. There are puzzles to solve and procedures to develop. It’s kind of like the early stage of a novel where decisions have to be made that will impact the unfolding story, only with less room for revision. But at the end of the narrative, it is still an accounting job.
So why do I like this job so much more than any of my others? One word: value.
My boss actually sees value in accounting, not just as a necessary and unprofitable department within the larger organization. He sees the importance of what I do and how I can contribute to the future growth of the company, which has made all the difference in the world.
Sadly, I think the world is placing less and less value on writing and art in general, which makes it tough to continue what we do day in and day out. Gone are the days when a writer could support herself through writing. Now, we shrug and accept that Amazon is selling our book, which took years to write, for $0.99. Just don’t calculate the hourly wage on those hours you’ve spent writing. It is interesting that we as writers, an inward-gazing bunch away, are able to place value on our work ourselves, which is hard to sustain. But sustain it we do by celebrating book contracts despite the low or nonexistent advances. We continue to write for free for magazines and websites, telling ourselves we’ve made it because our words are in a public forum. Maybe this makes us stronger as a group–that we can self motivate and hold ourselves in high enough esteem to keep going, that we’ve learned how to place value on what we do in ways other than monetarily.
I’m not sure what to do about this, but I do know that having value placed on my skills at work has affected me personally. My outlook on the rest of my life is better. I am worth something to someone. I am productive, and I am getting paid for that productivity. I’m helping someone.
As some of us head into the Muse, I want us all to think about the value we have in society. What we do is worthy. What we do can change people’s lives. What we do can be healing or informative or thought provoking. What we do is valuable beyond measure. Let us all band together as worthy and valuable writers and raise a glass to ourselves (with wine). Then let’s race forth into the world and shout out that value to whoever passes by, be it at the Muse or elsewhere.
*Yes, this is an exaggeration but don’t you feel like this sometimes?