Saturday, April 25, 2009

What Kind of Writer Are You?

In his terrific restaurant memoir, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain describes several types of cooks:

You’ve got your Artists: the annoying, high-maintenance minority. [...] so ethereal and perfect that delusions of grandeur are tolerated.
Then there are the Exiles: people who just can’t make it in any other business, could never survive a nine-to-five job, wear a tie or blend in with civilized society -- and their comrades, the Refugees, [...] for whom cooking is preferable [to other work].
Finally, there are the Mercenaries: people who do it for cash and do it well. Cooks who, though they have little love or natural proclivity for cuisine, do it at a high level because they are paid well to do it -- and because they are professionals.
I see, in those descriptions, several types of writers. The literary Artists whose originality and perfection stop my breath and force me to endure beats of despair until I accept that such will never be me. The Exiles (whom I don't understand) and the Refugees (whom I'm currently aligned with, although reconsidering). But overall, being a practical person at heart (with an enormous love of literature) and good at execution, I am, I suppose, a Mercenary.

Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman -- not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that [...] Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying. And I’ll generally take a stand-up mercenary who takes pride in his professionalism over an artist any day. When I hear “artist,” I think of someone who doesn’t think it necessary to show up [...]. More often than not artists’ efforts [...] are geared more [to themselves...] than satisfying the great majority of dinner customers.
What kind of writer are you?


  1. I'd rather be a Mercenary but so far I've gotten by becoming an Artist. Becoming and being are two different things and no competence should be inferred in the case of becoming. I can afford to become an Artist than be a Mercenary because I have another job to pay the bills. It gives me the luxury of practicing writing rather than selling it. The smart ones are the Mercenaries. Because with experience, comes art.

  2. I participated in an overnight short-story contest this weekend, and woke up this morning wanting to get back to my story unspoiled by much exposure to "real life." But I did stop by here and read your comment ... and honestly, it was a terrific send-off to finishing my story.

    Thanks for playing :)

  3. I love Anthony Bourdain! And I do "get" the exiles- people who are just miserable in the confines of a corporate/office environment, and have to find places to make a living where they can have at least some sort of sense of movement and freedom; where they don't have to put on a shirt and tie and sit like a school boy for 8 hours.

    I am like that, and I think lots of other ex-theatre types are that way, too. Hence the temp jobs, and lack of long-term employment history for me! Now I've got the excuse of stay-at-home motherhood to save me from the next admin assistant job... at least for a while! :)