How Marx Applies to Your Writing (Hint: It’s not the way you think.)

When you accept admission to the U of Chicago, you’re basically deciding to prostitute yourself to academia. One advantage of the education, though, is you get to read primary sources. Like, instead of reading essays by Marxists about Marx, you read what Marx actually said.

So today in my social sciences class, we were discussing Marx’s view of labor. I’m not going to get into it. Suffice to say the title of the course could have been “EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT MARX IS WRONG” and it would have been 98% accurate. (100% accurate would have been “EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT MARX IS WRONG with added historical context!”)

But that’s not important for us. Marx has some interesting things to say about labor, and I’m going to apply them to writing.

Most people are familiar with the words “subject” and “object.” The subject acts upon the object, yeah? People are subjects – anything outside of them is an object. You know the term “object of his affection”? Same sort of deal.

A huge fallacy of this train of thought is the idea that subjects act upon objects and that’s the end of it. So writers are writers from their inception, and they start writing books because they are speeshul geniuses.

Anyone who writes knows that isn’t the case.

Writing takes practice and work.

Not to say talent doesn’t help, but if you’re going to reach your full potential, generally everyone agrees that some practice in there SOMEWHERE is going to be helpful.

Marx basically says just that. When you work, you create a product, and you also create yourself as a worker. When you write, you write a book, and you also create yourself as a writer. (In fancy-talk, work creates both the subject and the object.)

That sounds about right to me.

I’m talking about the evolution of a writer. What I’m writing now isn’t what I was writing two or three years ago. I had to write a lot of things before I settled on what I think I want to do as a writer (I’m still unsure), and every time I wrote something, the part of me that is a writer changed.

I’d like to think this is the case for everyone. Maybe we can’t see it in published works, because authors have written so much before they publish, and, in any case, books aren’t published in the order that they’re written. But I’d like to think that every writer has to work to create themselves as an artist, that artistic evolution is important, and that self-discovery isn’t something that happens while you sit in a meditative state in a room with blank walls, but something active that requires work.

Because the image of the writer as an effortless genius is downright damaging to authors who do work. I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten upset at authors who seem to be effortless in their writing, just churning out book after book. How do they do that? But if you think about it in these terms, no, they aren’t being effortless. They’ve written a lot, and over time become the authors that they are – to become capable of writing quickly, and well, and with finesse. And chances are they’re working just as hard now as they were back then, but maybe in different ways.

So what I’m trying to say is this: Realize that when you write, you’re not just writing a book. You’re finding yourself as an author. You are engaged in an active examination of yourself as an artist, and that is incredibly important, whether your book is published or not.


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