This Writer's Life

Building a Body of Work


The Thinker by Rodin, Legion of Honor, San Francisco

If you have a resume like mine – degrees in data processing and poetry, early jobs selling candy, shoes, and houseplants, a career in IT (when it was still called “MIS”) and a mid-life shift back to the arts, you might find it challenging to explain how these disparate employment threads led to the person I am today.

Recently, I started thinking about the concept of “body of work” vs. “resume.” To quote Pamela Slim in her book Body of Work, a body of work is

  • big and deep and complex
  • supports creative freedom
  • includes obvious things, like books, software code, photographs, videos, process improvements, paintings, and stories
  • and not-so-obvious things, like community development, love, movements, memories, and relationships.

“It is possible,” she writes, “to contribute to your body of work if you work in a cubicle inside a larger company.” That’s what I did for years, writing poems and stories on my lunch break at work. Looking back now, I can see that my desire to be a writer grew alongside my job as a systems analyst. When I left that profession in my mid-30s, got my MFA, and embarked on a freelance career as a writer and teacher, my computer skills came in handy, helping me build websites, navigate social media, digital photography, videos, and editing software.

My resume doesn’t show a cohesive march through the ranks of a profession towards a tangible goal – i.e., starting out as a junior programmer and ending up CIO. I like to say that I’ve had a curiosity-driven life, but that sounds a bit indulgent to me. Suffice it to say that mine hasn’t been a straight-and-narrow path, and that I’ve been extremely lucky. I’ve been able to use pieces from my wide array of jobs, hobbies, and interests as building blocks towards a body of work.

A body of work is usually judged on its quality, not quantity. As Roger Rosenblatt wrote in a New York Times essay, “the term is applied equally to one who has produced a tremendous amount of material, and to one who has written only a few things. The difference between a minor and a major poet has to do with quality, not heft.” Yet it’s hard not to be humbled by those artists who managed to be both prolific and profound; Persian poet Rumi, born in 1207, is the author of close to 30,000 lines of poetry and the best-selling poet in the U.S.

I especially like the idea, expressed in Pamela Slim’s list, that a body of work includes intangibles such as community development, love, movements, memories, and relationships. This website, and the newsletter Sticks & Stones, are my attempt at building and nurturing an artistic community, and I wouldn’t be anywhere without the love and support of my family, friends and colleagues.

Jeff Goins of the blog “Goins, Writer,” puts it this way: “The creative life is one of multiple projects and gigs and crafts that all fit together” and “The fun part about a portfolio is that no two portfolios look the same. That is, if it is made up of more than one thing, if it is diverse.”

When I look at my resume, I see an uninspiring list of dates, positions, and responsibilities. When I think about my body of work, however, I see the real picture, all of the tangible and intangible things that make up a life.

Categories: This Writer's Life

2 replies »

  1. Erica,I understand—Time should be on the poetry.The other stuff is fluff in my opinion but I see where it does help the community..i* have 3 major works,MSs—some 650 pgs.I avoid most readings and focus on the above and youtube readings some 20 of them.I am obscure and that is okay.Keep up the good work.*

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