San Francisco, California

Books as Work

There’s this troubling belief when just starting out as a writer that your favorite texts aren’t just bits of paper strung together but are instead works of art; ethereal and everlasting. This is constantly reinforced in popular culture, at university and even by many of the authors themselves. There are Fine Ages of Literature. There are the Classics. There is the English Canon. There is the Great American Novel. There are times and places that are more important than other times and places.

But the more I learn about writing, both from friends that have published books and from distant yet-to-be colleagues in the writing game, is that it simply isn’t healthy to see books as works of art — made by a single artistic genius in complete isolation. This is because elevating them to the status of mythos makes the work of book writing even harder than it really is. It makes us less capable of picking up a pen, of making notes, of having the patience and confidence to start typing, clicking, designing and building our own books.

We can’t afford to see books as art if we want to make a contribution, whatever size that might be, to the world of bookmaking. Rather, we must see books as work instead.