Mar 22, 2009

Dennis Palumbo on Psychotherapy for Writers

Here, far too early in the morning, Dennis Palumbo is bringing a gentle sense of humor and a touch of Goethe to one big question hovering over the conference.

As a participant asked him, how do you go from being a newspaper reporter where you’re told what to do, to a freelance reporter where you have to manage yourself and basically be an entrepreneur?

“This is a huge change for people psychologically,” Palumbo said.

“When you’re an employee it’s almost like being a child in the family,” he said, adding, “Whether or not you do it well is kind of like what grade you will get.”

Having a boss is a psychological boost, Palumbo said. It means you have someone who believes that the work you do is good—and good enough to pay for. You also have someone backing up the need for your story.

“The thing that’s so scary about being an entrepreneur, being your own advocate in the career marketplace” is you have bring your own sense of entitlement to your work, Palumbo said.

The great German poet Goethe described writers as those who must believe that the world cannot survive without what they write, Palumbo said.

“Most of us don’t feel that way, but …you have to feel that way,” Palumbo said.

“As a writer, you are taking focus, and for a lot of people, that’s very difficult,” he said. “That’s why a lot of writers are comfortable when they’re working in a staff position. They have roles, they have positions, and they’re clearly defined.”

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