Why Writers don't write about work


A perennial lament among critics is that writers seldom write about the workplace and the working routine. The everyday stuff of most people's lives goes untouched by literature. I'm learning why.

Work seven years in academia and you're eligible for a sabbatical. I've had seven years as a full-time writer and now I have a sabbatical with a difference. My version of time out is time in. I've jumped into a regular day job. Up at 6.30, on the road by 7.30, still working towards bedtime and through the weekend. I've cancelled the daily paper, for the best I could get round to doing was crumpling its pages in the evening before recycling it. I've stopped buying books, because my shelves are full of unread ones. My main news sources is the BBC World Service, there to soothe me back to sleep when I waken with work worries in the night.

The workplace is stuffed with the drama and language of personal lives. As a novelist I'll use it one day. The bigger picture, however, evaporates. The corporate world, environmental devastation, gene manipulation, racial and religious warfare, the actual stock of my writing trade, keep on swelling beyond my ability to comprehend them, let alone challenge them. The job is a day-to-day matter of survival. My world has shrunk.

I see why most readers prefer being entertained to challenged; we require a little light relief after a hard day's work. We don't want to read about the workplace, we want to escape it for a while. If a little global context comes in that's fine, so long as it carries itself lightly. Critics might long for books set in the workplace. Novelists are much more in tune with their readership by not doing so.

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