Writing as a Career

Two disorganized bookshelves.
Part of my bookshelf. Don't make me to organize it. © Su Review of Arts & Journalism.

(Note: this article is a (rough) translation of Chinese one, 以写作为业. If you have some Chinese proficiency, you don't have to read this.)

Whenever someone says I'm like a writer or like a poet, I will be grumpy. If they said I was a writer or a poet, I always want to jump up and slap them when they can’t see me. Then I slowly accepted the fact that I often work with words, and I felt a little better.

In the society I was exposed to, being a writer meant live in destitute. No need to hide this thing: I have no money, but I'm happy, that's why I want to write. Of course, I am not against making money by writing, I am also very short of money, and I am also very fluent at spending money. Recently Su Review has patched a donation function, where you can make one-time or recurring donations with all kinds of bank cards. When I have money, I want to go to the Intercontinental Hotel Le Grand Paris  and check out the Café de la Paix there: the suites there cost over 7,000 CNY(about 850 USD / 800 CHF) a night, and so far we've earned one percent of that.

What's Writing?

What is writing...? This question is rarely asked. My elementary school teachers told me to learn (Chinese) literature from word to paragraph to essay. Although I haven't been in school for long, I know that they only described what writing would do, in the jargons of you intellects, that’s  called "descriptive definition". There is no dichotomy between "you" and "us": being in education, and even tertiary education, is the most mainstream method of learning, especially for those who follow the academic route - but it is far from the only one. If I had to come up with a normative definition of writing, it would be ‘to tell stuff clear’.

I'm an animal, and I'm petty. I don't have to say things clearly if I don't need to communicate with each other. If I didn't have a group of people to participate, I would probably never need to know things about other people, or even remember them in many cases. There are people to communicate with, so we talk; because I have to speak to more people, I write. I want to express feelings: sometimes I'm happy, sometimes I'm sad. But as my editor said, abrupt expression of emotions is a kind of condescension, a lecture to others to have your feelings. I'm too small to do that, so I want to tell you what happened that caused me to think that way. That's what I'm doing for the most of the time: getting things off my chest and say them clear.

Next, some words about descriptive definitions: what writing can do.

Writing... started out for me as expressing emotion; now maybe with the addition that I want to make money - I have two elderly people in my family and three cats at home. I don't have Doraemon so they don't come with money bags, so an extra wallet is probably a good thing. Expressing emotions is simple whilst conveying them is complex. I remember reading Camus The Myth of Sisyphus before, and he probably made a point that, in my words, is: the facts themselves are accurate, but they don't make sense; the narration gives meaning, but it's not accurate. Most of the readers who give me the benefit of the doubt should be employed now, working doing things that make no sense as far as those things are concerned. I've worked as a file clerk, entering data into a computer; the thing itself doesn't make much intuitive sense - I've entered government documents that I'm afraid no one even remembers or cares about, even by the person who wrote them. What can be the meaning of this thing? It doesn't take much effort to hit the keyboard, since you can't get water to move from the first floor to the fifth. But I can say to myself, today I entered some metadata of the file and I get a buck, with many bucks I can buy many stuff I want. (all bucks here are Chinese Renminbi, basically 7 Renminbi = 1 US Dollar.)

There is no point in buying anything per se. There is a 24-hour Changting bistro (basically a local version of Shaxian snack) down by the flat I live in, with banmian for 4 bucks a bowl. According to my food consumption, only twenty-four bucks a day to keep me kicking, not bad. But I am human, I want to eat nice stuff, which brings me happiness. If I can feel something other than just happiness, that's a sense of meaning. Meaning is what makes us willing to take pain, and pleasure doesn't need meaning to enjoy. When I'm high, it never makes sense; when I have sex, it doesn't make sense. Meaning can’t keep me breathing, but nevertheless, when meaningfulness is strong enough, one can lay down one's life for it.

Writing gives me meaning. Meaning is the "reason of intention"(It’s a Chinese etymology, where 意义 means the logos of emotions). I encounter all kinds of things in my life and feel all kinds of emotions. Writing provides an outlet for my unwarranted emotions and tells me about the reason behind them. With reasons, emotions become acceptable, and reasons allows others to experience the same emotions as I do. If I write well, others will feel their emotions are valid, and they (you) may be able to understand themselves(yourselves) better.

If we can tell something clearly and give it meaning, then maybe we won’t forget about it. The ancient knotting of strings was for law (contracts) and religion (the dead and the living). If we know that our suffering is remembered and our death is commemorated, then I'm sure we would not be so lonely. To feel that we have ancestors before us who have felt the same way, and that there are descendants behind us who can read our stories and can take us away from our present suffers a little, so somehow writing is for remembrance and education.

Intrinstic Fate vs External Fate

At one point I spent four or five hundred bucks on a set of the complete works of Beidao by Sanlian(a publisher in China for literature, maybe like Faber & Faber but less posh); I bought the Sanlian version because I couldn't afford to buy the OUP [Oxford University Press] one. Yet I bought it and basically only read the preface: but I think the preface alone was worth the price.

Of course, you might rightly differ, but the preface is very good for me. The preface is two pages, A5 size, about the reason for Beidao to write. Beidao begins by saying that at the age of fifteen, he "had a dream of being a writer and didn't even think about the consequence", and that dream has taken him through fifty years and he has grown old (every time I read this, I can't help saying, "Haha, you silly cunt!). During these decades, he worked as a concrete worker for six years, a blacksmith for five years, and after June 4 Massacre, he exiled overseas.

Mr Beidao was always a comfort to me when I was young, but I can't write such poetic words, so I just casually say something to you. Apart from his career, there is a very important idea in this preface, which is the "external fate" and "internal fate" of the Soviet writer Mandelstam.

The outer destiny is easy to understand. Whether I am handsome or not, whether my father is affluent and for how long he being this way, this is my most ostensible external fate; there are many more subtle external fates, such as whether I am good at reading or not, whether I am good at reciting words or not. My external fate was not good. Although my family could somehow feed and clothe me, I am by no means affluent. I am ugly, so no sex life for me. These are my external destinies.

Many people choose to learn computer sciences because of their desire of good external destiny, since becoming a programmer can quickly change the external destiny of the next generation. But my inner destiny is too powerful and silenced my outer destiny. My outer destiny is again not resilient, resulting in my current penniless. However, my inner destiny makes me happy because it can shepherd my outer destiny.

When I was thirteen, I complained to my friend about how I didn't do anything, and now I think about it, I often lament how hard it was for my thirteen-year-old self; she said something like, “the older you are like you are obligated to do something, the more you find yourself the lack of doing anything”. She is now studying for her MD at West China Medical Centre, whilst I am foolishly happy to write, diploma, money and pretty face, I ain’t get nothing! Eventually, I succumbed to my inner destiny, and I willingly joined the ranks of the silly cunts.

At the end of that preface, BeiDao said, "Many years have passed. Looking back, along a dark row of street lights, two or three of them dampened, and there was some unexpected surprise in the upset: the street lights were bright or dim, formed by the rows - for the living and the dead". Beidao’s life has passed more than seventy years, while my life has passed twenty-one years ...... not much different, after all?

In these twenty-one years, I have met some people and said goodbye to most of them. I have seen the misfortunes and injustices around me. It has become my inner destiny to record these departures and misfortunes; I am determined to write them down so that you may one day, while walking alone on the road and playing with your mobile, see my words with some kind of upset or a grain of warmth and know that you are not alone in this world. Of course, if you would like to make me less lonely, you can write to me and tell me how you feel about my article. Our contact information is at the bottom of page, and regardless of "you write well" or "you write shit", any reply is much better than nothing at all. I promise I'll answer every letter - unless I get rich and my outer destiny suddenly becomes explosion-proof, then I guess I'll forget all about it, LOL.

Writing as a Profession

Writing is boring.

Frankly, my editor is a very professional person who doesn't take care of my face. I used to send him my manuscript happily, and then the 1,000-word manuscript was covered with spots and comments - all criticism to my works but no me, personally. Looking at these criticisms, it was natural to get annoyed and lose face - why don't you praise me high? But in the end, I blame myself. He is right, I can't say anything.

Writing, especially commercial writing, needs to consider the feelings of the reader. Commercial writing is not like writing diaries- an essay is composed of several components: arguments, claims and delivery (in literary writing, it's event, narrative and delivery). In life, there is always this and that going on, and none of us are God and cannot observe the full picture of events. Describing actions and processes is called describing events; presenting the desired side of events or arranging them in a particular order is narrative; rhetoric, paragraph arrangement, etc., are all part of delivery. A good essay cannot live without any.

My guess you’re a wage slave and have limited time and energy - my writing must please you for you to read it; I use some perks and humour and you may be able to read it comfy. If you think it's good, we get more subscribers; if people think it's good, we get conversions, and if I get more conversions, I get to stay in Intercontinental Le Grand Suite in Paris, or at least go less hungry - that's real life writing.

Writing is often like this: turn on the computer, open YouTube, do something totally unrelated, and reluctantly write in Word/VS Code/web editor. I can hardly hold any ideas, stupid or not; peradventure I do, I type them in hastily: time dashes fast, I have to go to meals or bed. For more specialized writing, such as in the field of macroeconomics, you need to read a lot of books, buy databases with your own money, study how to use Excel / Python / R to do data analysis and visualization, and finally form an opinion I can believe in and present it to you. In addition, when it comes to writing historical essays, you also need to buy many, many books. In the end, it is likely that you will not be able to complete it, and no one will ever read it even if you do.

In the midst of self-pity and exhaustion, one has to get things done. Often, thinking of my poverty, I reluctantly return to the computer and finish the ideas I have written halfway through, barely. When I sent it to my editor, I was criticized shitless by him, and after I got done my emotions, I continued to revise it, until I vowed not to write for the next six months, or even to change my career immediately. Eventually, halfway through the revision, I ran out of patience and went to publish. There is a time requirement for publishing: before writing, the editor/wallet rushed me; after writing, I feel the urge to knock on doors to make readers to read my articles. Time passes, looking at the bullshit I wrote, I felt ashamed and wanted to change my career and disappear immediately.

If I'm unlucky, I gotta do the typesetting. Using LaTeX or Markdown is most convenient way to hash it(this is done by Markdown, kudos to the developers), MS Word comes with more fuss. If I have to go with InDesign, I will immediately start to reckon myself as dumb as fuck. If I want to print, there are countless details that make my head spin and incurred costs that break my heart, anyways I won’t bore you with details. In short, writing is not a breeze; at least for me, there's no “a pen/keyboard and some papers, and I rip people off by one go”. I have no talent, I just want to push on and facilitate it, and to do so, I have to endure a lot of boredom, and I have to drag my editor to read my brainless words that I write in one go. Alas, one lives to trouble others!

Writing as a Vocation

Of course, trivial matters are important, but living in a community means seeing other people's trivial matters. These trivia are the things that make up communities, societies, nations, and politics. When I changed the name of this publication, I did so after the London Review of Books, which is one of the most famous anglophone literary reviews, but there are also French ones like Nouvelle Revue Française. I can't do what they do - the city I was born in is a small place, and I don't represent anything, so I don't dare to use place names. In that case, I can't represent anyone else, but I can represent Susu! So, our name was set as Su Review of Arts & Journalism.

I started my writing career as a journalist. I said I was doing news, but in fact it was just a bunch of friends watching while I translated, shuffled, summarized and then sent it out myself. Occasionally, I wrote some reviews and feel complacent in my small circle. Later, I felt that "the more I reflected on the endless parade in history, the more I am haunted by the futility and absurdity of all human affairs". Now, I just want to write some journalism reviews, with some idea to be on par with Columbia Journalism Review or Mr. Cheng's The News Lab. Just trying to make some change from the source, really. It will take some popularity to achieve this goal, so if you like it, you might also consider recommending us to your friends.

When it comes to journalism (media), it is definitely inevitable to do some social writing: to be frank, to write about politics. Some of my friends have asked me if I am "repeatedly choosing to die", just like Liu Xiaobo. I want to live, I want to be rich, I want to have a lot of cats (dogs can be get out, thanks), I don't want to choose death. Just that, since childhood I am an honest dude, also I do not want to think too much for things that have not happened for the time being. If one day I get arrested, maybe I'll stop writing. Alas, who knows what the future holds?

In fact, I don't care about politics, I don't care about who is in power, but I just had to care later on because politics finally came to care about me. I have some guiding principles to behave like, although I don't know if I can meet my own standards. Albeit it doesn’t seem confusing and too hard for me, I don’t see any regime is doing that. That principle is “treating people like humans”.

Treating people as people means that there are no people above or below them. Fukuzawa said, 'Homo nec vllvs cviqvam praepositvs, nec svbditvs creatvr' (This is a Latin saying. It means "Heaven does not create a man above, nor a man below"), and these words are inscribed on one of the buildings of Keio University to this day. Not only is there no significant difference of talent and intellect amongst people, but everyone has real feelings and needs real love. For this reason, everyone's opinion is important and should be respected by society and others, and society should try to be responsive to everyone's opinion. In order to achieve this, everyone should have the freedom to publish and to express - and, of course, given that I am in China, the freedom after expression.

In order for everyone's potential to be fully developed, education should be available to everyone according to his or her wishes, and the cost of education should be affordable. In order for everyone to realize their potential after education, there are issues such as anti-trust and distributive justice. In conclusion, I think the baseline of a society should be to enable everyone to live a dignified and safe life; the goal should be to enable everyone to live a life of taking what they need and to do what they want without hurting others. Achieving these goals will develop many theories, practices and skills, but the truth is simple - if I am doing well and others are not doing well, I am sad. If I am having a bad time and others are having a good time, I am sad: it is better if everyone is having a good time (of course, there are historical solutions that "make everyone have a bad time", **cough cough**, Mao.).

In short, it is similar to knowing the principle of logic gates to make chips. The principle is indeed simple, but the implementation is complex, and I can only try to choose some representative topics to comment on, hoping that someone can hear my words, and then make some changes, these changes to drive everyone to change, and finally achieve a society where everyone is better off. I'm not noble, just say what I want to say. Taking some risks thereof, although reluctantly, but also inevitable, so I took it. Ultimately, I just want a society where there is justice, security and no suffering.

Parts of my tiny dreams

If I were to say what my dreams are, they would probably be on three levels: personal, community and societal.

My personal dream is to put some thoughts that I have nowhere to put to rest through the Su Review, and also to practice my writing. If you like it, I hope it can also soothe some of my own financial problems. Ultimately, it's a "find a job, but money is better" mentality; of course, I'm especially grateful for your response: it's a great feeling to know that your writing can have an impact on others or provoke them to think! When I hear some of my friends say that reading my articles makes them feel a little bit better about their lives, I can feel happy for a while that I am not a useless person.

The community-level idea is to slowly gather up a group of people and build a platform. With a platform, we can exchange our thoughts when we are happy and comfort each other when we are unhappy. After all, people live in groups. If there’s some emotions you can’t tell elsewhere, let Su Review help you. In addition, revenue of Su Review will be distributed to editors and third-party authors, which can also make my friends happy, maybe enabling them to buy an album. It's so nice to share the feelings from writing, I wish I could waste a lifetime on it.

Those societal aims are expressed in aforementioned sections. If people can become a little bit kinder and braver because of my voice, maybe the power of thoughts will be passed on to the future, and then people will be able to live a little bit better, or at least not so bad, right? I will be very happy, truly happy, because doing something to help others, this is the meaning of the existence of me.

Finally, writing, for me, carries a degree of selfishness. Those are like Beidao’s words : “for the living and the deceased”. For those lamps gone dampened, for those mates I’ve met, for those encounterance and those departures. In the end, writing is for me myself: for not forgetting, for the living and the dead, for the mischief and the sorrows, for those prayers and lamentations.

Lest we forget.