Vocation or Desire?

I just picked up a book at the library called Writing as a Sacred Path, by Jill Jepson. In the opening paragraphs, she compares writing to a vocation, a calling, or an irresistible impulse. I’ve just started the book so I don’t know how good it is going to be, but I like the idea of writing as a sacred path.

But going back to this vocation. The word got me wondering what exactly a vocation is. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. Well, I don’t think of writing as a career or an occupation, and I certainly don’t feel suitable. And rarely capable! Another definition is a person’s employment or main occupation ‘especially regarded as worthy and requiring dedication’. Writing isn’t my main occupation, although I might wish that it was. Finally, the dictionary says the origin of the word could come from the Latin vocare, to call. Okay, now that resonates with me and reflects back to the opening of this library book, when she says writing is like a calling. But what does that mean?

A vocation, a calling, to me, is something we cannot separate from ourselves. No matter where we are in our day, it’s there, under the surface, impacting everything we say and do. Added to that is the urge to write, the simmer that makes us miserable when we are not writing.

I remember a young person telling me she wanted to write a book, wanted me to give her an idea, tell her how to do it, and she wanted  it published within a couple of months. This person obviously thought writing was simply tossing some words down, magically getting them published, and sitting back while the money rolled in. If this person had heard that call, felt that longing, tried to capture the spirit of stories out there in the universe, she would never have asked about writing so flippantly. Yes we want to be published, yes we want to make money. But we write anyway, without those things.

And of course sometimes writing feels less like a yearning call and more like a gorilla on our back. Or a leach sucking us dry. Or an inner critic breaking our heart.

My husband recently gave me some quotes that I think impart what I am trying to say here in a much simpler fashion. So I am going to end with them. Words to take away and think about when that calling pulls you down the sacred path.

Cacoethes scribendi:  insatiable desire to write

Verba volant, scripta manent: words fly away, writings remain

Think about that last one.

Writing remains.

7 thoughts on “Vocation or Desire?

    • Not sure where my reply to this comment went to. Oh well. What I liked was your use of the word ‘burning’ because it clarified for me why the use of ‘vocation’ bugs me. A vocation should burn, and that’s not how writing is for me. I feel it’s more of a gift that I have a responsibility toward. Plus the urge to write is more of a yearning than a burning. A daydream that won’t leave me alone.


  1. I love that last one. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been overcome by the feeling that my writing could be here or there, to be found long after I’m gone.

    Especially now, I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t allowed to write anymore. It feels so necssary. And I do mean allowed. These days I feel like the world could just take it away from me at any time.


    • No one can take the writing from you. Other things can, like when we listen to closely to unkind comments, or health issues like I had. But we do that to ourselves, mind or body. When writing has gone away from me it’s been because I allowed it to go, or my brain was too overwhelmed with survival. You’ll always have it. That’s what I believe anyway; who knows if I’m right!


      • I suppose you’re right. All I know is how the last job I was “lucky” to get demanded so much memorization and such a crazy schedule that I didn’t write for about two and a half months. I tried a couple times, but I was so beat that I realized it was better to go to bed and try to sleep than to risk passing out at work.

        And it’s so much harder for me to get an idea, or follow through with one, when something threatens. Lately every time I feel better, there’s a new blow. I almost envy people whose only trouble is their lack of a love life. That’s the only thing I’ve sort of learned how to deal with.


  2. Good points. LIfe does get in the way. I’ve given up trying to write every evening, like I used to. I’m just too tired by the end of the day. But I try to then make the time I do have to write really count. And when we are in survival mode, like me during radiation fallout and you with life right now, the creative side of our brain just shuts down. I’m here to testify it will come back though. Just be patient, focus on surviving and the ideas will start to creep back. Can’t tell you when though. Took me almost three years. Be patient with yourself.


  3. funny thing, a lot of these comments remind me of things I learned from my teacher while training for my teaching job. The one thing is that a guy named Marlow put up a “pyramid of needs” in I believe it was psychology. On the bottom it had the most important needs to be filled, like oxygen, food and water, sleep and being pain free. Then came shelter, safety and I dont remember what else. In between it also had love and feeling of belonging/home, self esteem and feeling excepted and respected. But in the end, on the top it had the sense of self fulfillment. And the important thing this guy said, was that only if one level is fulfilled you can rise to the next. And any kind of creativity for me belongs into the last space, the top one that we can reach only if everything else is dealt with.
    So meaning if you are in pain, you dont care about the others and you dont care about self fulfillment, you just want the pain to go away. If you are in survival mode that is where your body is, and he puts everything into that and you can not be creative at that moment until you feel safe and secure and happy again.

    The other thing I thought about, is that word of vocation. The word vacation in German means Beruf as a first meaning, also another word for job in a way. So my teacher always said “Beruf” comes from “Berufung” which is a nice wordplay in German. If I would translate it I could write it as “Vocation comes from the calling” or “job comes from vocation”…because when I looked it up, vocation means both German words “Beruf” and “Berufung” which gives me the satisfaction of my lovely teacher was right and it is what you were saying Lisa. Vocation is like a calling. I always thought my job working with little children is my calling so it is my vocation in both meanings of the word.

    But on the other side writing for me is not a calling or a job, so no vocation for me. That to me sounds more like I said before, a job that you love to do and you feel it was made for you or you were made for that job. Which can be right for a person who writes to make money and loves it.
    For me though writing is more like Lisa said a yearning to get this daydream that keeps bugging me out of my mind. (…cleaning up my brain…) 😉


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