The first chapter of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well highlights the difference between the “serious writer” and the “hobby writer.” When Zinsser was asked to attend a school discussion and talk about writing as a vocation, while a Dr. Brock, “a surgeon who had recently begun to write and had sold some stories to national magazines...was going to talk about writing as an avocation” (p. 3).
vo·ca·tion: a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work (such as religious work): the work that a person does or should be doing
av·o·ca·tion: an activity that you do regularly for enjoyment rather than as a job
The students began to question Dr. Zinsser and Dr. Brock relentlessly.
What is it like to be a writer?
Dr. Brock: “It [is] tremendous fun. Coming home from an arduous day at the hospital, [I] would go straight to his yellow pad and write [my] tension away. The words just [flow]. It [is] easy.”
Dr. Zinsser: “Writing [isn’t] easy and it [isn’t] fun. It [is] hard and lonely, and the words seldom [flow].”
Is it important to rewrite?
Dr. Brock: “Absolutely not. Let it all hang out, and whatever form the sentences take will reflect the writer at his most natural.”
Dr. Zinsser: “Rewriting is the essence of writing… Professional writers rewrite their sentences repeatedly and then rewrite what they have rewritten.”
What do you do on days when it isn't going well?
Dr. Brock: “[Stop] writing and put the work aside for a day when it would go better.”
Dr. Zinsser: “The professional writer must establish a daily schedule and stick to it… Writing is a craft, not an art, and… the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself. He is also going broke.”
What if you're feeling depressed or unhappy? Won't that affect your writing?
Dr. Brock: “Probably it will. Go fishing. Take a walk.”
Dr. Zinsser: “Probably it won’t. If your job is to write every day, you learn to do it like any other job.”
Zinsser writes: “So the morning went, and it was a revelation to all of us. At the end Dr. Brock told me he was enormously interested in my answers—it had never occurred to him that writing could be hard. I told him I was just as interested in his answers—it had never occurred to me that writing could be easy… For of course there isn’t any ‘right’ way to do such intensely personal work. There are all kinds of writers and all kinds of methods and any method that helps somebody to say what he wants to say is the right method for him” (p. 4-5).
Is writing your vocation or avocation? What makes you put writing into that category?