Kafka’s day job

I do not believe in writer’s block. For me, writer’s block is the supreme laziness. There is no reason that suddenly you should fail to find any words at all.

What is entirely possible, though, is that you can’t find anything noteworthy to write about.

When a person says they have writer’s block, what they often really mean is that they are struggling to find a clever way of expressing something. Or worse, that ideas that they would normally write down in prose or an article or some other piece are so unpleasantly granular and far removed from one another that it is difficult to find a whole.

***

A great historian – in fact one of the first people who encouraged me to write professionally – told me that Kafka worked a day job so that at the end of the day, he could write down his ideas with clarity.

The allegory is a pleasant one but the truth is perhaps a little less romantic. Did Kafka just need to pay the bills?

I wonder what Kafka said to people at cocktail parties (beer halls) when he was asked about his occupation.

***

Almost every day, someone asks me to explain what it is that I do. The question is complex, life is short and I developed a quick answer: “I’m a journalist, writing about the arts and design.”

I’ve been using that line for a few years now – but it’s just not at all accurate anymore.

Since I left journalism school several years ago, I’ve been aware that there’s a very outdated stigma attached to journalists who stop being journalists in the traditional sense (writing for newspapers, magazines or recording broadcast work). Whether spoken or not, the truth is that leaving the profession is seen by some as a defeat or some kind of betrayal.

Honestly, I didn’t get into journalism to fight for a cause (truth) or to join a side (the press). I needed a vocation.

However, what I found, was that the skills that the practice of journalism required were incredibly useful across a wide variety of situations: understanding subtext in conversation, finding context for the quotidian, writing with structure, clarity and beauty, thinking about an audience/readership.

That’s why, when I eventually realised that I was doing less writing for publications and more publishing, I embraced the title of publisher. More specifically though, I came to the realisation that there is no shame in calling yourself a journalist even in a wider variety of situations than the traditional.

Let me give you a few examples.

When I first started out as a freelance, I thought that a freelance journalist’s job was to write for magazines. So I did. I wrote for a variety of different publications to the best of my ability.

But then I realised that I had developed a successful model of making magazines based on the direction that journalism was going in: community. And a year or so into my career, I began publishing magazines for people. I still do – they’re a lovely but deceptively powerful way of encouraging organisations and communities to consider their wider context.

More recently, when several large publishing contracts came to an end, I realised that much of the work that I had been doing around creating magazines for organisations , could quite easily be transferred to creative work in a larger sense. That’s why I founded Small Joys – a group of creatives looking to use editorial and illustration across a variety of platforms to create work that is both effective in communicating community, ideas and brands to the world but is also founded on quality production, great writing/illustration/design and some much needed joy – a quality which is missing from so much commercial creative work at the moment.

Over the past year, I have been busy redefining what it is that I do. These are the three things: journalist, publisher, creative director. I have been busy using those skills to teach, to create and to write for a growing number of businesses.

Kafka had a day job but this is what I do. I’m ok with that.