Adopting a Jo March Attitude about Writing

Over the years, I’ve learned I can write about nearly anything.  Tractors, vitamins, lingerie, hot tubs, psychology, money management, fashion, liquor, religion have all been subjects on which I’ve been paid to write, and I’ve tried to attack them all with the same interest. 

A friend of mine once asked me how I could bring myself to write about things she found boring.  The secret is that it’s usually the act of writing itself that I find interesting. 

Plus, I’m motivated by a paycheck.   Scandalous!

At some point, I think we’ve all let our desire to do something great get in the way of simply writing.   We debate whether an idea is “blog-worthy,” rather than put words to page. 

When I’m tempted to do that, I think of Jo March.

If you’ve ever read Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women, you know that Jo was the writer of the group.  Her proudest moment is when she discovers that she can earn a living with her pen. 

One interesting thing about Jo is that throughout the book, she’s never trying to write “The Great American Novel” or anything approaching the lofty title of Literature.  She really just wants to be able to earn a living writing.  

When she cranks out a full novel, intending to take it to a New York publisher, her friend Professor Baer criticises it for being essentially pulp fiction and not worthy of her talent.  That criticism does spur Jo to write a better novel, based in her own experiences and in her own authentic voice.  

Professor Baer is a Romantic in the literary and philosophical sense.  Even though he’s technically left the Ivory Towers of academia, he’s still got that Ivory Tower mentality.  Better to work as a governess than sully one’s Art with the influence of Commerce.  

Or maybe the novel was really just atrocious, and he knew it wouldn’t sell.  I kind of prefer that idea. 

Jo is a Realist–and a productive, working artist.  

So what about you?  If you’re paid to write, do you ever feel guilty?  Or feel like you should be writing something “better”?  Does getting paid for writing feel more like validation, or compromise?  Do you think of yourself as an “artist,” or a “tradesman”?  Are you comfortable with that?

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