Is journalism a pursuit of passion?

Is writing professionally a calling, or is it something that you do purely because it’s part of your job description? 

No – says Dominic Beesley, Features Writer, Motivate

DominicBeesley Writing isn’t some kind of sacred calling, something that only the chosen few are good enough to do.”

There’s not really much of a debate here – I mean, you can write and get paid for it. So it’s a job. Maybe not the best job to get into, but it is a job and not a calling. I studied Creative Writing, so university was basically three years of people telling me over and over again that publishing is a dying industry, paying less and less each year.

I don’t want to boast here, but it’s a skilled job. Not everyone can write. Well, everyone can write, but not everyone can write (imagine that last ‘write’ in bold and italicised, and possibly underlined). And there’s a difference there. Writing is the one thing you learn at school that you have to do at least once every day, especially in the age of Twitter, WhatsApp and whatever else is out there. How often do people ask you to recite the seven times table? Or explain how an oxbow lake forms?

Not that that means everyone’s the new Charles Dickens these days. One look at social media is enough to prove that. Unfortunately not everyone knows that there’s a difference between definitely and defiantly. Any writer will tell you there’s a skill in writing a perfectly crafted sentence, and they’d be proud of it. Just like a mechanic would be proud of a carburettor, or a footballer might be proud of a really great kick. Probably. I don’t know much about cars or sport.

But writing isn’t some kind of sacred calling, something that only the chosen few are good enough to do. It’s still a job. You can’t just lock yourself in a Parisian garret and slave over your next Pulitzer Prize-winning work. You’ll need money, eventually.

You can’t always write what you want, when you want to. Instead, you might have to write something you don’t want to, on a topic you find incredibly dull, all while putting your heart and soul into it. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t care less about the history of blu-tack – if your editor’s asked for 1,200 words on it, you’re going to have to write it or fear their wrath. And then there are the deadlines. Douglas Adams once said, ‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’ And while it might be witty, it’s not the best attitude. Sure, he’s a great writer and all, but it’s still a job. He’d definitely be fired.

YES – says Judy Cogan, Lifestyle Editor, Friday Magazine

Judy-Cogan“The career part, the publication part – they are just the steam above a boiling pot of desire to play with words.”

I was seven when I announced I wanted to be a journalist. I put down my pencil, looked up and felt the words fall out of my mouth. And that was that. Colouring in had already blended into scribbled words and a string of stories and poems laced with imaginary wonderment followed. I embraced early milestones – a poem I wrote read out in school assembly, my first article being published in a local newspaper aged 17. My appetite to tell stories evolved from the time of swimming lessons and slush puppies and carried on through my journalism degree and into adult life.

As a journalist I’ve written about topics I don’t find very interesting for a demographic I don’t fall into. Praise is often thin on the ground with column inches and bylines being the most lucrative currency in a lowly paid profession.

It’s not always an easy gig. The journalists who gently swerve into PR jobs lured by higher salaries are indicative of this. Yet the ones armed with an innate desire to keep going do just that.

Hurdles noted, writing still doesn’t feel like a job and often doesn’t look like one to outsiders. I was asked by a woman I interviewed for a national newspaper fresh out of university “So what’s your real job, love?” I was stumped. “This is my real job,” I finally replied and she roared with laughter. Did she think I was there for the fun of it? The fact is I guess I was and I still am now. Much like the many editors who don’t have to write any more, but still make time for it.

When I was asked to write this piece I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. It’s another deadline pushing up against all the others, but the opportunity to write something new was worth the headache. I wanted to do it and that’s the calling right there, the one you can’t quash.

A reporter friend of mine gave me his view yesterday; “I don’t think (writing) is a calling, more of a craft that you have to devote yourself to out of desire.” But that’s the difference between a hack and a writer, the difference between seeking and succumbing.

The truth is writing is a vocation, defined as;“a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.” That much is true, but the career part, the publication part – they are just the steam above a boiling pot of desire to play with words.

In a New York Times article from January this year and aptly entitled ‘Is Being a Writer a Job or a Calling?’ by Benjamin Moser, the author concluded: “Writing, after all, is something one does. A writer is something one is.” And I couldn’t have written it better myself.

1 reply
  1. Arnab Ghosh
    Arnab Ghosh says:

    I think it is a bit of both. While most people who use a language – any language – have the tools to be able to write in that language, many find it harder than it is. To someone with a flair for words and the ability (whether or natural or taught) to express themselves in any medium, it may seem odd that someone who can speak should have so much trouble writing. But the reality of it is that some people are just not cut out for it, even when they know what it is they want to say. The upshot is that it provides opportunities for people like me, who get paid to express other people’s thoughts in (what is made to look like) their own words.

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