Friday, July 02, 2010

Being a Writer and a Public Intellectual

I feel I ought to apologize for so many posts. I will slow down when I feel better and can get back to exercise and writing.

There was a discussion on Crooked Timber on possible jobs for a young person in love with literature. Most of the posters said the job market for academics was terrible and it was a poor idea to get a PhD. It was an especially poor idea to go into debt for a PhD.

People suggested teaching in a public or private secondary school, teaching English as a second language in a foreign country, becoming a translator, becoming a librarian, going into law or some kind of advocacy, since these require good language skills, and becoming a writer.

There are obviously problems with all of these in a bad economy. I think the advice on not going into debt is really good. In some ways, the discussion made me feel good that I quit before finishing my MA, though I have friends who finished their PhDs and became college professors and enjoy their work.

I quit because I didn't know what I was doing in school or in my life. I knew I wanted to write, and decided the best way to do this was to get a day job that wasn't too demanding and write in my free time. So I became a white collar worker, a clerk in an office, and I gradually picked up bookkeeping and accounting skills.

One of the people posting said it wasn't possible to write good fiction while holding a day job. It was too exhausting. And another person -- or maybe the same one -- said it wasn't possible to be a public intellectual outside academia.

Both these statements seem untrue to me. Plenty of people do good and useful intellectual work outside academic settings: free lance writers and artists, independent scholars, scientists working for organizations other than colleges and universities.

And people do manage to write good fiction while working at many kinds of jobs.


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